Lakers fans including myself went through an entire roller coaster of emotions in one week — from excitement, despair, confusion to dreaming of a better future. It started at the end of last week where the rumors and talks surrounded the possibility of Paul George wanting to the play for the Lakers. Everyone was rightfully excited.
A superstar player wanting to play for Los Angeles is not something fans were accustomed to hearing this past couple of years. The scenarios ran through our minds, we could trade a player and our late draft pick for George or we could just wait for next year. Regardless of what scenario you preferred to get George, the fact that he could play with the core of D’Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle was a realistic possibility. The excitement didn’t last long.
Despair came fast as a tweet on Tuesday when it was announced that the Lakers had traded Russell away to the Brooklyn Nets. Like most fans, I was devastated when I saw Woj’s tweet. I thought it was a typo or a fake account; there was no real reason to trade Russell, let alone for the package we got back for him. The Lakers’ future was no longer filled with excitement because the present moment felt too unreal.
Ironically, Rob Pelinka traded Russell to preserve the future of the Lakers. A lot of us felt that the future was brighter with D’Angelo in it. There is no doubt that the Lakers were hamstrung with Timofey Mozgov’s contract, hindering their ability to sign superstar free agents, but there are more ways to remedy that issue than giving up your talented player. One way would have been patience.
When the Lakers fell from their graces of the NBA stardom and relevance, they sold us on the idea of rebuilding and patience. Not all of us appreciated it at first, but nevertheless, we bought it. As the losses pile up every season, we were still hopeful that at the end of the day we would get a talented promising player. The first sign that we supported the rebuilding process was when they selected Russell in 2015 with the second overall pick. He was our player. He was the symbol of our rebuild. And now he is gone.
As fans, it is difficult to find a connection with our team’s front office. It is easier to connect with the players, especially because most of them are young. Whatever character flaws that Russell had during his time as Laker should not change the fact that he was the best player on the team last year. We connected with Russell because of his style of play and bravado. We connected with him more because of his imperfectness. Mature or immature, good or bad, he was still our guy.
So now most of us are left stuck in this yucky moment with the inability to think about a promising Lakers’ future. Thursday, the Lakers selected Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Thomas Bryant. Ball has the potential to be a star player who has the ability to make everyone better. Kuzma is an athletic player who can handle the ball in transition and glides like a gazelle on the court. Hart is a natural leader and winner who can score, pass and defend. Bryant is a young and mobile big with a lot of upside and potential.
I know it is hard to move on and that waiting for the future feels like you are stuck in quicksand. But we don’t have to think in terms of months or years. In a few weeks during summer league, just imagine Ball flying down the court and throwing a lob to Brandon Ingram. Or Kuzma grabbing a rebound and leading a break and finding Ball cutting to the basket for a huge slam. Or Hart locking down the opposing team’s best offensive player. Or Bryant swatting shots left and right.
Yes, the future would have been more fruitful with Russell in it. But if we can show the same love and connection that we had with Russell to these new and promising players then I think we will be okay. At the end of the day, we will love and cheer for anyone that dons the purple and gold.