The Lakers’ acquisition of D’Angelo Russell last season at the trade deadline injected new life into the Purple and Gold.
Not only did Russell play a pivotal role in guiding Los Angeles to the playoffs, but he also contributed significantly to their advancement to the Western Conference Finals, where they ultimately fell to the reigning champions, the Nuggets.
Despite Russell’s impactful regular-season performance, his playoffs experience was marred by a challenging series against the Nuggets, during which he saw limited playing time, averaging 6.3 points, 2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 23.5 minutes per game. However,
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham is leaving no room for doubt about Russell’s role in the team though in spite of his struggles against Denver.
“A lot was made about the way things finished against Denver or whatnot, but at the end of the day, we don’t get to where we got to without D’Angelo Russell,” Ham emphasized.
“I’ll give you one, Dan. He’s our starting point guard. He’s our starting point guard. And I’m going to encourage him to be assertive. He’s a highly intelligent basketball player. He’s coming back with sort of a chip on his shoulder.
“Again, he chose us, we believe in him, and he’s one of those guys that has a ton of pride and passion about not only his individual performance but those of his teammates as well.
“He’s one of the biggest supporters of his teammates. So I look for all of that in D’Lo, and I think he’s another one that’s going to have an outstanding season.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka chimed in, offering a perspective on Russell’s challenging playoffs series against the Nuggets.
“I’ll just add to that,” said Pelinka, “I remember Darvin and I sitting in our exit meeting with D’Angelo, and it was coming off the emotional Western Conference Finals. You lose to the champions, and he didn’t get a chance to play as much in that series. And we talked about it.
“We said, listen, from the time the trade happened until the end of the Denver series, I said ‘Let’s look at it as a great honeymoon. And you could go on a honeymoon with your significant other, and you can have 13 incredible days, perfect days, and if lunch on the 14th day isn’t as good as you want it to be, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredible trip.’
“So we want to keep the bigger picture with him of that. He came here, he impacted our season in a huge way, let us into the playoffs, let us beat the defending champions, the Warriors, was a big part of that playoff series.”
Pelinka continued to laud Russell’s offseason commitment, highlighting his improved physicality and vocal leadership among teammates during workouts.