The Los Angeles Lakers agreed to trade D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. This article is a reaction to that trade.
The Los Angeles Lakers made a blockbuster trade on June 20, 2017, just two days before the NBA Draft. The Lakers agreed to send D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Today, we will look at the trade from a few different angles and then I will share my finals thoughts at the end of the piece. Let us jump right into it.
Admittedly, I was shocked when the Woj Bomb first came across my computer screen. I immediately went and checked other sources, and it was true. Then, the disappointment set in.
D’Angelo Russell was the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. I though he played poorly in his rookie season and did not live up to the hype. I was on record as saying Jordan Clarkson looked like the better player that season. Russell seemed to turn a corner at the end of last season, though. He was the best player on the court for the Lakers during the stretch run, and I had hoped he would truly breakout in his third season. Just like that, he is off to Brooklyn.
Improvement next season
The trade improves the Lakers for next season (A smart move as LA has no reason to tank as their pick is headed elsewhere in 2018). Brook Lopez is a supremely skilled big man and currently the best player in this trade. Lopez earned a 2.0 value over replacement player (VORP) and 0.105 win shares per 48 last season according to Basketball Reference. Russell had a 0.7 VORP and 0.034 win shares per 48. It would take a vast improvement from D’Angelo Russell to eclipse Lopez next season.
Brook Lopez is a very skilled offensive player. He scored 20.5 points per game last season while adding a three-point shot to his repertoire. The threes hurt his efficiency slightly, but gave Brooklyn’s offense another dimension and made for matchup problems. I look for Lopez to lead the Lakers in scoring next season.
The problem is the Lakers traded two seasons or more of D’Angelo Russell for a season of Brook Lopez and a late first-round draft choice. Lopez is a free agent after the 2017-2018 season, and the struggling rebuilding Lakers will have nothing after that.
Making room for Lonzo Ball
You will hear the narrative that this trade makes room for the Lakers to draft Lonzo Ball number two overall. I do not buy into that. D’Angelo Russell's best position was as a two guard in the NBA. He is more of a scorer and spot-up shooter than he is creator and initiator. I was excited about the pairing of Ball and Russell in the backcourt, but those dreams are gone.
Giving up on a number two pick too soon
Los Angeles dumped D’Angelo Russell way too early in my opinion. Russell just turned 21 years old in February and had two NBA seasons under his belt already. He made improvements in both years and was looking primed to take another leap next season.
Dumping so quickly worries me with number two overall pick Brandon Ingram and whoever the choice is at second overall this year. Are the Lakers just going to drop them after a rough year or two for a rental player? Rookies take some time to develop, and Los Angeles appears unwilling to wait. That is a dangerous combination.
Mozgov’s contract is gone
The one saving grace of this trade is the Lakers freed themselves of the terrible contract former GM Mitch Kupchak gave to Timofey Mozgov. The Nets are now on the hook to pay Mozgov $48 million over the next three seasons. A hefty bill for a player that played just 54 games last season and only 20.4 minutes per game. The contract is one of the worst in the NBA, and the Lakers should be happy to free themselves of it.
I still think they attached the wrong asset to eliminate the contract from their books, though. D’Angelo Russell was their best player last season. Granted he is not a great defender, but if you shift him to the two and put a capable defensive point guard next to him, you could have made up for that deficiency. If the trade involved Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, or Brandon Ingram, I would have felt better about it. D’Angelo Russell is the piece I would have kept.
Another draft pick
Magic Johnson and company secured themselves a third first round pick in this deal. They now have three total selections in the draft. The Lakers pick second, 27th, and 28th overall. Three more opportunities to improve their roster, but you have to think two late first round picks are going to be projects next season. It is hard to count on a late first round pick for rotation minutes before the calendar flips to 2018.
If I were grading this trade for the Los Angeles Lakers, I would give it a C. The Lakers freed up cap space in 2018 (you have to use it wisely for that to be a plus), rid themselves of a terrible contract, and got another first round draft pick. The problem was they traded their best player and former number two overall pick to get the deal done.
It was a fantastic move for the Brooklyn Nets. They traded away a season of their best player for a young talent with years of control. The Nets are going to struggle again next season, so this deal made a world of sense for them. I would give them an A grade on this trade as they got young talent and moved their franchise in a positive direction.
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