Trading D’Angelo Russell was one of the first moves Magic Johnson made when he took over the Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball operations department, but the former executive’s opinion of Russell has clearly changed over the past two seasons.
Russell is coming off a breakout season with the Brooklyn Nets in which he was named an All-Star, and there has been speculation that the Lakers will be interested in signing him as a restricted free agent next month. Johnson, who openly criticized Russell’s leadership abilities after trading him following the 2016-17 season, told Bill Oram of The Athletic on Monday that he is all for the Lakers trying to bring the point guard back.
“He’s better now,” Johnson said. “He’s a different player. He’s more mature. … Now he’s ready. He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did. But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”
Johnson was referring to the drama that unfolded between Russell and Nick Young. Russell leaked a video on social media in which Young was talking about cheating on his ex-fiancee Iggy Azalea, and there were reports that Russell’s relationship with his teammates deteriorated after that.
Some will say Johnson should have ridden that out instead of giving up on a talented No. 2 overall pick, but Magic thought he was changing the culture in Los Angeles at the time. We all know how that worked out.
For what it’s worth, a remark Russell made before he was traded seems to indicate the Lakers have assembled his dream roster over the past year. If the Nets end up signing Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant, a reunion between Russell and the Lakers seemed like a legitimate possibility.