D'Angelo Russell exercises $18.7 million player option with Lakers, per report


D’Angelo Russell is opting into the final year and $18.7 million of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Russell, whom the Lakers acquired at the 2023 trade deadline, signed a two-year deal with the Lakers last offseason that included this player option. With trade rumors swirling around him at both the deadline and during this offseason, there was some fear that he might opt out and leave the Lakers for nothing. However, with Russell opting in, the Lakers will either bring back their starting point guard or have extra salary to use in a trade.

Russell has had two strong regular seasons with the Lakers since joining the team in 2023. He averaged 17.4 points in his final 17 games of the 2022-23 season, and then put up 18 points and 6.3 assists per game while breaking the Laker record with 226 total 3-pointers last season. However, Russell struggled mightily in consecutive playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, both of which the Lakers lost. He averaged a pathetic 6.3 points per game in the 2023 Western Conference finals, and then shot below 39% from the floor in the first round against Denver last season. He was benched for Game 4 in 2023 but started all five games last postseason.

While Russell is a strong offensive player in the regular season, those playoff issues combined with his well-known defensive weaknesses make him a tough fit for a Lakers team with lofty postseason ambitions. He was an upgrade on Russell Westbrook when the Lakers were desperate, and his ability to run the offense for lengthy stretches helped keep LeBron James healthy, but now that he has opted in, the Lakers will likely consider him as a trade chip.

Their books sorely needed his salary for that purpose. The Lakers have four other players earning between $10 million to $20 million: Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves, Jarred Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent. This is the optimal range for trading purposes because it is a small enough number to be traded individually for a single, non-star player, but big enough that, when lumped with other contracts, can take in a very expensive acquisition. The problem here is that the Lakers view Reaves and Hachimura as long-term core pieces. With only Vincent and Vanderbilt as likely trade options, the Lakers were pretty limited in the kinds of players they could pursue. Adding Russell’s $18.7 million to the mix gives them more flexibility to seek out help.

The Lakers have had a busy offseason already, hiring JJ Redick to be head coach and picking Dalton Knecht and Bronny James in the NBA Draft. These moves are splashy, but they haven’t exactly changed much in terms of the on-court product. The Lakers need to improve if they are going to genuinely compete next season, and reports have indicated that LeBron James still very badly wants to win at the highest levels. They have a ways to go to make that possible, but keeping the Russell contract on their books is a small step in the right direction.

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