D'Angelo Russell's Lakers future: What experts say, what's best for both sides

Experts share their thoughts on D’Angelo Russell’s future with the Lakers, but what is best?
Los Angeles Lakers, D'Angelo Russell
Los Angeles Lakers, D'Angelo Russell / Cole Burston/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers are headed for a first-round playoff exit. They fell behind 3-0 to the defending champion Nuggets but came back to win Game 4. D’Angelo Russell has been a crucial piece for the Lakers this season, which made his Game 3 struggles hurt even worse. D-Lo bounced back on Saturday night, but it was likely too little too late for LA’s season.

The Lakers will face a ton of questions if they flame out in round one. From head coach Darvin Ham’s future to LeBron’s player option, there is uncertainty about this roster. Russell has an $18.6 million player option for next season and could become an unrestricted free agent. He re-signed with the Lakers last summer, but it was a deal that gave both sides freedom to get out.

Russell’s decision is already drawing plenty of chatter. The Lakers must upgrade their roster this summer and cannot afford to lose him with zero return. Here is a look at what the experts think and how each side should proceed.

Brian Windhorst says D’Angelo Russell is headed for free agency

Brian Windhorst said D-Lo will “likely” decline his player option and become a free agent on the Hoop Collective podcast. The ESPN scribe detailed how it puts LA in a bind because the new tax apron rules prevent the Lakers from being able to sign-and-trade him. If D-Lo opts out, the franchise has to re-sign him or lose him with zero return.

Expert says D’Angelo Russell should opt-in

Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz thinks D-Lo should take the $18.6 million player option or he will have to take a pay cut in free agency. This would give the Lakers options and allow Russell to maximize his earnings next season. He could still be traded and would have a larger market as an expiring contract.

What is best for the Lakers?

LA should hope Russell opts in because it gives them options. They desperately need his floor spacing, ball-handling, and shot creation. The Lakers cannot rely on LeBron James to bring the ball up the floor every time and need shooters around their superstars. D-Lo is not the perfect fit, but the Lakers have no way of replacing him if he decides to depart in free agency.

There will be talk of adding a third star this summer. There are risks involved, but having Russell on their books gives the Lakers another salary to trade. It also increases the odds that LA can keep Austin Reaves out of the deal.

What is best for D’Angelo Russell?

D-Lo has to decide between maximizing his earnings, staying in Los Angeles, contending, and securing a long-term deal. The 76ers, Thunder, and Magic are all projected to have cap space, but would any of those three teams target Russell? Orlando seems like the most likely, but he has a better chance to contend in LA.

The biggest question will be how much can he get in free agency. Does he take a three-year $45 million contract over the $18.6 million the Lakers would owe him? Russell is 28 years old and in the middle of his prime. There will be another contract waiting in 2025 if he is healthy. Only D-Lo knows what he wants.

What is best for both sides?

The best avenue for all involved is D’Angelo Russell opting in. It gives him a hefty salary for the 2024-25 season and allows the Lakers to get something in return. He will likely be traded by the deadline as LA tries to improve their roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. His expiring contract may be the matching salary that helps the purple and gold land another star and brings them back into contention.

The D-Lo situation is just heating up. It will be a crucial decision that fans should watch closely after the Lakers are eliminated.