The Los Angeles Lakers tabbed D'Angelo Russell as a key piece of their rebuild when they selected him second overall in the 2015 NBA draft. Two years later, the 21-year-old point guard is already on the move.
According to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers will ship Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in Thursday's NBA draft. ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne confirmed the news.
Shelburne noted the Lakers were likely incentivized to make the trade to get out from the final three years of Mozgov's four-year, $64 million contract, which he signed last summer:
Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne
Lakers had called multiple teams in lottery about acquiring Russell this week. No takers. He becomes the guy who helps them get off Moz $2017-6-20 22:25:41
Lopez, meanwhile, will earn $22.6 million in the final year of his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
With Lopez on an expiring deal and Russell out of the picture, Wojnarowski broke down the long-term ramifications of the move for the Lakers from personnel and financial perspectives:
Adrian Wojnarowski @WojVerticalNBA
For the Lakers, this is longer-term play to clear space for Paul George and LeBron James pursuit. Lonzo Ball on way at No.2 https://t.co/KxfdEuAUO02017-6-20 22:19:31
ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Lakers are now looking to trade the No. 27 and No. 28 picks in the 2017 NBA draft along with either Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson in exchange for Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George.
Russell's first NBA season was marred by a stint in former head coach Byron Scott's doghouse and a highly publicized off-court incident with Nick Young, but he came into his own as a sophomore after the Lakers replaced Scott with Luke Walton.
Although knee and calf injuries limited Russell to only 63 appearances this past season, he appeared more confident as a playmaker and primary scorer. The Ohio State product averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists on 40.5 percent shooting from the field, including 35.2 percent shooting from three.
The biggest revelation, though, was that Russell may actually be better suited to operate as a shooting guard rather than a conventional point guard since he's a capable spot-up shooter who can use the threat of an improving jumper to take defenders off the dribble.
"I feel like when you're playing shooting guard, you've got to score the ball or make plays for your teammates," Russell said after he erupted for a career-high 40 points as the Lakers' starting 2 in a March showdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers, per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes. "Playing the point guard, it's harder to do that, be aggressive, try to score the ball every time, because you've got to make at least one pass."
Now moving to the Nets, Russell should build on his late-season success and morph into the offensive powerhouse he once projected to be. While that transition will undoubtedly take time, Russell figures to have more space and time to evolve under head coach Kenny Atkinson since he's no longer being shuffled around a crowded Lakers backcourt.