D’Angelo Russell’s tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers went about as poorly as it could for a second overall pick. His exit as the asset in a pick swap drew the ire of many fans with seemingly no direction to justify it.
Regardless of all of that, there was a genuine path for the two parties to be reunited once again this past summer. Fresh off an All-Star season with the Brooklyn Nets, Russell became one of the league’s most coveted free agents once Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant committed to the franchise.
With money running low and few teams having the space to sign the young point guard, the Lakers emerged as one of three legitimate suitors for his services alongside the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves. In fact, according to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater, the Lakers were nearing a potential nine-figure deal for the 23-year-old:
Russell only wanted serious bidders and, sources say, he had three: The Lakers — wouldn’t that have been quite the reunion? — nearing a potential $100 million offer but in limbo until Kawhi Leonard made his choice, the Wolves, up over $100 million but still needing to create cap room to get to his max, and the Warriors, offering the full max in a complicated sign-and-trade involving Durant.
The Lakers, of course, were waiting on Kawhi Leonard’s decision and had been mostly quiet in the free agent market to save salary cap space and revert to plan B if Leonard did not come. Their unwillingness to give a full max to Russell like the Warriors did almost certainly factored into his decision to take the guaranteed money instead of waiting around for the Lakers.
Still, it’s a fun hypothetical to think about. The Lakers have been great this season, mostly due to their stellar defense. But Russell could have given them a third star who, despite his inconsistency, would have taken even more pressure off LeBron James and Anthony Davis offensively.
But now it’s a moot point. Russell is on the struggling Warriors hoping to continue his evolution as a player alongside the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.