D’Angelo Russell had a feeling it would happen, but he paid it no mind. When the Lakers secured the No. 2 pick for the third year in a row at the draft lottery in May, all signs pointed to one point guard in the draft who would be selected.
From the time after the lottery till the week of the draft, the reports came. The Lakers were shopping Russell around to make room for Lonzo Ball, who eventually became the team’s pick in the 2017 Draft and Summer League MVP, but nothing was set in stone.
Then two days before the draft, it happened. The Lakers traded Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick.
“My agent called me and told me what was going on,” says Russell, on how he found out about the trade. “I kind of figured a little bit, but I was prepared for whatever was supposed to come.”
The trade was the first big move by the Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka regime.
“I’m going to do what it takes to get the right players in here with the right mindset. D’Angelo is an excellent player…but what I needed was a leader,” said Johnson, during Ball’s introductory press conference at the team’s facility, regarding the Russell trade. “I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also that players want to play with.”
While many believed a Ball-Russell backcourt was something that could work, it made no sense. When former general manager Mitch Kupchak was relieved of his duties earlier this year, Johnson and Pelinka inherited his baggage—notably the contracts of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov—and needed to act fast to bring the Purple and Gold closer to its championship prominence.
The trade cleared up cap space as the Lakers hope to land a superstar to join its young core of players.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in Marina Del Rey, CA, and Russell, one of two NBA players at the Gatorade Player of the Year Awards, a ceremony that has recognized the nation’s elite HS athletes for their athletic excellence and academic achievement since 1985, is available to speak with reporters.
A myriad of media sit down in their designated areas and wait with scheduled times for players they’ve requested interviews with. As Russell enters the building, he circles around, shadowed by PR staffers who introduce him and announce about a 5-minute window to get questions in before he’s onto the next publication.
“It’s been great,” says Russell, when asked what the past month has been like for him. “Definitely a transition for me, but it’s great all around.”
Russell was officially introduced as a member of the Nets last month and expressed how opinions from critics—especially Magic—regarding his lack of leadership and maturity were “irrelevant.”
“I am looking forward to the challenge,” says Russell. “You saying my leadership is being questioned, this is an opportunity to make the best out of it.”
It’s obvious that the Association is a cutthroat business. A plethora of players can be here today and gone tomorrow.
So does Russell feel like he was betrayed?
“No, it’s a business, honestly,” he says. “A lot of great players have been traded before me and they’ve made careers out of it, so I would never say that.”
The official schedule for the 2017-18 season hasn’t been released yet, but there’s one game that Russell’s already looking forward to.
“Yeah,” says Russell, on if his return to Staples Center as a member of the Nets is something that he’s anticipating. “Leaving L.A.—this is where I got drafted to—so anytime someone gets traded from where they’ve been drafted… they know it’s not a normal game.”
For now, Russell is on a team that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2015 and combined for 41 wins in the past two seasons. With the change of scenery, he’s far away from the glitz and glamour of L.A. and can focus on reviving his career in Brooklyn.
“It’s a new situation for me,” he says. “So I’m looking forward to it.”
Drew Ruiz is a contributor to SLAM. Follow him @DrewRuiz90.
Photos via Getty Images