Former teammate nearly caused D'Angelo Russell to leave the Lakers

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

D'Angelo Russell has been the most polarizing player on the Los Angeles Lakers this season and it has not been particularly close. Stemming back to last year's Western Conference Finals where he struggled and was benched, Russell has played under a beaming spotlight all season long with narratives and headlines flying around his head.

Russell was floated around as the most available trade chip on the Lakers leading up to the trade deadline. And to be fair, Russell's past did warrant some of these conversations. Russell's play in the past has not been the most consistent, and there is a reason why several different contending teams were willing to part ways with him so quickly.

This all motivated Russell, who has truly turned a corner over the last month and has been the Lakers' best player not named Anthony Davis. Russell not only justified the Lakers' decision not to trade him, but has looked like the player who the Lakers were hoping to get at the trade deadline.

So what changed? Outside of extra motivation from the trade rumors and the fact that he is playing for a new contract, a roadblock for D'Lo was cleared in the offseason. Russell has not only played better for the Lakers but has seemingly developed a better relationship with head coach Darvin Ham. Surprisingly enough, this seems to all stem from the fact that Russell no longer has to compete with fellow veteran point guard Dennis Schroder, who left during the summer (h/t Dave McMenamin, ESPN).

"Russell knew Ham and Schroder's history went back nearly a decade to their time together with the Atlanta Hawks, where Ham was an assistant coach. Russell, meanwhile, had been around Ham for two months. (Schroder signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Raptors in the offseason and was traded to the Brooklyn Nets last month.)

"His relationship with Darvin is the reason I couldn't have a relationship with Darvin," Russell said."

Dennis Schroder held D'Angelo Russell back (and could've led to him leaving the Lakers)

It wasn't necessarily anything that Schroder did specifically to hold Russell back but it is clear from these quotes that him being on the team served as a roadblock.

This should not come as a surprise to any Lakers fan, as Ham has made it very obvious that he has an affinity for players he previously coached. That is why Taurean Prince became a prominent staple of the rotation, even when it was obvious that the Lakers were far better when he played less.

Schroder didn't just keep Russell from connecting with Ham last season, but his presence seemingly nearly led Russell to sign with another team. According to McMenamin, Russell was not initially thrilled with the idea of returning to the Lakers last summer. One day after Schroder signed with the Raptors, though, Russell and the Lakers struck a deal.

Fast forward eight months and Russell is arguably the most important player on the entire Lakers roster. He is not the best, but if the Lakers are going to reach their ceiling then they need the best version of Russell. His play truly is the difference between the Lakers being a true title contender and being a team that cannot get past the first round.

And this time around, there is not another veteran point guard with ties to the head coach standing in his way.

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