2. Los Angeles Lakers
Much has been made regarding the breakup between the Los Angeles Lakers and D’Angelo Russell. Even with all their history, the two sides appear ready to make amends, having reportedly set up a meeting once free agency begins. This puts L.A. in prime position to re-acquire a player it should’ve never let go of in the first place.
After pairing LeBron James with Anthony Davis, it didn’t look as though the Lakers would have the cap space to even attempt pursuing players of Russell’s caliber. That all changed Thursday afternoon when a deal was made with the Washington Wizards that sent out Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones, freeing up the prerequisite $32 million for a max-level player.
AD is one of the 10 best basketball players alive today and was worth every piece the Lakers gave up to get him, but his offensive impact is limited as a big man. He can’t control the game as well as a perimeter player and requires the ball in specific spots more often than not. The pressure he can take off LeBron on that end is minimal.
In all three of his championships, James was flanked by a secondary shot creator who he could count on to score 20-plus a night. Going on 35 with an odometer on a never-ending incline, he needs that type of player now more than ever.
Coming off the best season of his pro career, there’s no reason to think Russell can’t be that secondary ball-handler to keep LeBron relatively fresh for when it matters most. James would also prove beneficial for Russell, as he does most for his teammates, through empowering the young floor general to make plays while also freeing him up for easier looks.
Russell’s had little playoff experience so far in his career, but the same was said of another young star point guard upon linking up with the King. Kyrie Irving had never tasted playoff basketball before James made his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, he’s got a top-30 postseason scoring average and hit one of the biggest shots in sports history to help win Cleveland a title.
L.A. would immediately become the 2019-20 title favorites with a Big 3 rounded out by Russell. The former Laker would play an integral part in that pursuit next to two of the best players in the NBA today, while getting to learn from one of the greatest to ever do it. For a player whose stock continues to rise, it’d be the perfect platform to take it even higher.