Los Angeles Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell has had to listen to trade rumors since he re-signed with his team this summer. He signed a one-plus-one deal that pays him more than $18 million this season with a player option for the next.
While that is around the going rate for a starting point guard, the Lakers also likely re-signed him to that figure in case they needed to match salaries in a trade for a star. Recently, Russell has come up in trade rumors, with the Lakers in pursuit of Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray but the Hawks don't want to take back Russell.
A struggling team unwilling to take back Russell and/ or the Lakers flirting with trading him in the first place has seemingly lit a fire under him. Over his last 10 games, he's averaging a terrific 23.5 points per game on 48.8% 3-point shooting as well as 6.3 assists, including most recently scoring 28 points against Golden State.
That production hasn't necessarily helped the Lakers climb in the standings since they are currently ninth in the West but it should be enough to make them second-guess moving Russell.
Should the Lakers hold on to D'Angelo Russell or trade him?
The theory behind adding Murray is that he'd give the Lakers a defensive guard who can also play with and without the ball. However, Murray is not nearly the terrific defensive player he once was in San Antonio and has been coasting on his reputation since.
He might be better as the third-best player on a team with long-shot title hopes but that isn't a guarantee. Also, while he has dramatically improved as a 3-point shooter, is effective at knocking down pull-up jumpers and floaters, and creates for others in the pick-and-roll, he isn't dramatically better than Russell in those areas.
That raises questions about why they should be willing to give up Russell and potentially two first-round picks for Murray and perhaps they shouldn't. After all, L.A.'s defense hasn't been as big of a problem as their offense has.
In fact, they are technically an above-average defensive team based on defensive rating but rank in the twenties on offense, thanks largely to taking the fewest threes per game in the NBA. Swapping out Russell for Murray might only help them improve slightly on defense and marginally on offense. Of course, the Lakers may be targeting Murray for future seasons rather than this season, with him only 25 and on a reasonable contract for the next four seasons.
Overall, Los Angeles may be better served by pursuing more affordable options that won't cost them both their remaining tradeable future firsts. That potentially means holding onto Russell and hoping that his hot hand continues throughout the rest of the season.