To be clear, D’Angelo Russell could absolutely throw shade on the Lakers. He could go full-blown vindictive, or he could simply give a snide remark about Magic Johnson or Lonzo Ball or Luke Walton.
Except Russell is done exhausting mental space with the Lakers.
“I don’t think there’s anything else to be said from my part,” Russell told the Daily News. “Whatever y’all decide to cook up. Whatever quote y’all take, expand on it, good luck with it. But I don’t have any extra emotion.”
Next week Russell will return to Staples Center for two games, against the Clippers (Sunday) and Lakers (Friday, March 22), and he’ll arrive there as an All-Star. The Lakers, meanwhile — that storied franchise that traded Russell almost two years ago to Brooklyn and panned him on the way out the door — are a flaming hot trash heap.
Even with LeBron James on the roster, they’ve managed to fall out of playoff contention and sully their young assets. Jeanie Buss and her ace — Magic — have failed at building a competent roster, and their trade of Russell now resides as one of the pockmarks.
A year ago, it was different. Russell came back to Staples Center in the beginning of an injury-plagued season. The Nets weren’t very good. The NBA world was gaga over Russell’s replacement, Lonzo Ball, and pleasantly surprised by the draft pick that Russell netted in return, Kyle Kuzma.
Today, the Nets (36-33) sit sixth in the Eastern Conference while the Lakers (31-36) have waved the white flag. Russell is averaging a career-high 20.3 points and 6.8 assists on 43 percent shooting. He was named an All-Star last month.
Ball, on the other hand, is out for the season with an ankle injury and hasn’t lived up to the hype. It’s hard to envision a star point guard who only shoots 41 percent from, get this, the free-throw line.
But Russell also had maturity issues while with the Lakers, according to people who worked with him at the time. The environment in L.A. — where the team was in flux and without veteran leadership — compounded the problem.
Soon after the trade in 2017, Johnson said he moved Russell because, “What I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also somebody that players want to play with.”
It was a piercing insult from arguably the greatest point guard of all time.
Eighteen months later, the crowd at Barclays Center chanted for Russell, “Thank you, Magic.”
“Loyal fans right there,” Russell said.
So does it mean something special to return as an All-Star next week? Let’s just say, Russell is done with that chapter.