Five Reasons D’Angelo Russell Is Still a Better Fit for Lakers Than Kyrie Irving
Since declaring they plan to re-sign D’Angelo Russell as their point guard of the future this summer rather than pursuing Kyrie Irving, the Lakers had their first opportunity to see Russell and Irving go head-to-head last night.
While it’s just one game, Kyrie Irving dominated play and his match up with D’Angelo Russell as three costly end-of-game mistakes by Anthony Davis caused the Lakers to lose a 111–110 heartbreaking buzzer-beater.
Irving posted 38 points on hot 14–23 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists with just 2 turnovers in 39 minutes. Russell posted just 11 points on poor 5–17 shooting, 2 rebounds, and 11 assists with 0 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Last night’s Mavs and Lakers game showed why the Lakers could still change their minds and decide to pursue a sign-and-trade for Kyrie Irving as their point guard of the future instead of re-signing D’Angelo Russell.
Kyrie is without doubt one of the most talented and hard-to-stop superstars in the league and performances like he had last night only make Lakers fans and even the Lakers front office more likely to rethink their position.
But the decision is not as simple as deciding between D’Angelo Russell and Kyrie Irving. It’s actually a franchise-defining decision to pursue the three-superstars model or the two-superstars and deep-and-diverse-roster model. It’s about what is the right strategy considering where the Lakers are right now as a team, what resources they have to make changes, and what kind of roster do they need to build around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
As great an offensive player as Kyrie Irving is, D’Angelo Russell is still a better overall fit for Lakers than because he adds continuity, is younger, is taller and longer, is less expensive, and is more trustworthy and reliable.
1. Russell Improves Lakers’ Continuity
The Lakers desperately need continuity after three years of one-and-done rosters. If D’Angelo Russell continues to play like he has, the Lakers need to re-sign him long-term rather than trying to trade him for a third superstar.
After turning over almost their entire roster other than superstars the past three summers, Los Angeles reversed that strategy at the trade deadline by focusing on trading for younger players who would be great long-term fits.
Based on what we’ve seen in the 9 games he’s played, Russell already is proving to be the perfect point guard for the Lakers. He’s averaging 17.9 points, 3.6 boards, and 6.4 assists in 29.8 mpg shooting 44.5/37.1/82.8%.
The Lakers think they have at least three more years of LeBron James as a superstar and building continuity by re-signing D’Angelo Russell long-term, as well as their other new additions, should be be a top offseason priority.
2. Russell Makes Lakers Younger
The Lakers would be wise to prefer the now 27-year old D’Angelo Russell over the soon-to-be 31-year old Kyrie Irving as the former gives Los Angeles four more years in the heart of his prime than the latter is able to offer.
Russell just turned 27-years old while Kyrie turns 31 years old this month, making him almost 4 years older. Essentially, Russell is just now entering what will be his prime while Kyrie could be nearing the end of his prime.
It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of the Lakers’ roster average age. In 2019–20, Lakers’ average age was 30.0 years. In 2020–21, it was 30.9 years. In 2021–22, it was 27.1 years. In 2022–23, it’s now down to 25.6 years.
Assuming the D’Angelo Russell we’ve seen is the D’Angelo Russell we get, the Lakers would be foolish to give up a budding young star just entering his prime for a superstar with questions who’s close to past his prime.
3. Russell Adds Size & Length
Some of the Lakers’ early struggles were because of the physical makeup of the roster, which lacked size and length at almost every position, especially point guard where Darvin Ham usually started the 6' 1" Dennis Schroder.
Aside from adding needed shooting and defense at the trade deadline, Pelinka also added critical positional size throughout the Lakers roster, including point guard with the 6' 4" Russell who has a 6' 10" wingspan.
Russell uses that size and length along with changes in pace and direction to control the speed and tempo of the game. He’s not an above-the-rim player like Westbrook or Morant. He’s a game manager with swag.
Where Russell’s size and length have really helped the Lakers has been on defense. Since he’s joined the Lakers, D’Angelo’s 103.5 defensive rating has been second only to LeBron James 98.5 for the last 14 games of the season.
4. Russell Is Less Expensive
One of the major reasons for preferring to re-sign D’Angelo Russell rather than trading for Kyrie Irving is their relative annual salaries. D’Angelo might be willing to sign for $30 million while Irving wants $47 million.
The Lakers learned first hand from the Russell Westbrook experiment how paying maximum salaires to three superstars makes it almost impossible to build a deep and diverse roster to support and complement the superstars.
There’s a good chance the Lakers could re-sign Russell to a 4-year $120 million contract whereas Irving is reportedly seeking a $47 million per year max deal. Bottom line, Irving is a superstar while Russell is simply a star.
The problem with the 3-superstars model is not having enough cap space left to build a deep, diverse roster. Re-signing a star like Russell rather than a superstar like Irving enables Lakers to build deeper, more diverse roster.
5. Russell Is More Trustworthy & Reliable
The single biggest reason the Lakers should re-sign D’Angelo Russell rather than trying to trade him for a third superstar in Kyrie Irving is Dlo’s proven to be a more reliable and trustworthy throughout his professional career.
In today’s NBA, a player’s greatest ability is unfortunately his availability. Over his eight full seasons in the NBA, Russell has averaged 72 games per season compared to Irving’s 55 games per season over his eleven seasons.
More importantly, since signing with the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie has played in only 103 or 43% of the 236 available games for a variety of reasons ranging from injury to unvaccinated status to various personal reasons.
The Lakers need leadership from their point guard and D’Angelo has now matured and shown he can be trusted to efficiently execute a game plan, and provide solid leadership and personal reliability on and off the court.
Rob Pelinka and the Lakers made smart decisions in rebuilding their roster via trades at the deadline with D’Angelo Russell one of the critical additions that’s transformed the Lakers into legitimate championship contenders.
While last night’s loss to the Mavs was disappointing and discouraging, the Lakers are still just 2 games out of the 6th seed with 11 games to go. Their chances and confidence of making the playoffs drop with every new loss.
Whether the Lakers without LeBron James can run the gauntlet and make the playoffs is not as important as watching the team finally make smart long term decisions and build a roster with great promise for next season.
Kyrie Irving may have won last night’s lead-to-head with D’Angelo Russell but in the long run the Lakers should stay the course and understand Russell is the better fit as the Lakers point guard of the future than Irving.
If you enjoyed this article and ant to share your ideas and comments with other Lakers fans, please join us at Lakerholics.Com.