The latest on D’Angelo Russell’s looming player option, plus other Lakers rumors

Anthony Irwin
9 Min Read
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Sources close to the situation speaking on the condition of anonymity say the Los Angeles Lakers are preparing for D’Angelo Russell to opt out, but would not be at all surprised if he opted into his player option for the 2024-25 season. League sources believe that if Russell does opt in, a trade would be likely.

A major topic throughout league circles has been agents instructing their non-star clients to heavily consider opting into player options with so much unknown about how teams are going to spend their money this summer.

The explanation offered by several sources is simple: The Lakers need to prepare for the outcome that would require immediate action. If Russell opts out, the Lakers would make every effort to bring him back on a reasonable deal. If he opts in, that gives them more options this summer, and L.A. would launch a search for a trade partner.

Last trade deadline, the Brooklyn Nets showed some interest in Russell, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement on draft capital in any potential deal — including a three-team trade that would’ve landed Russell in Brooklyn and Dejounte Murray in Los Angeles.

This summer, the belief around the league is L.A. will reignite trade talks with Atlanta for Murray (if they haven’t already), and Russell on a one-year expiring deal is a lot more desirable than trading for him last season with a player option ahead of him.

It’s by no means a stretch to say that Russell’s decision would have a ripple effect across everything Rob Pelinka and the the Lakers front office are trying to accomplish this summer. Sources say many people at various levels of the Lakers organization have real questions about Russell’s and Austin Reaves’ ceilings on a team with championship aspirations.

League sources have questioned what Russell’s market could be should he test free agency. Some have mentioned the Orlando Magic as an option because of their desperate need of backcourt scoring, but there is some skepticism that they’d actually be interested in Russell because of his league-wide reputation both on and off the court.

Russell’s disappearance in both of the last two postseasons left people wondering whether the Lakers could ever fully rely on him in that kind of situation. Another factor in the Lakers’ concern with the 28-year-old point guard is his at-times unpredictable personality and the decisions he’ll make without considering their impact on the locker room.

One example a source close to the Lakers pointed to was a sit-down Russell had with Dave McMenamin of ESPN that aired several grievances against then-coach Darvin Ham and the Lakers organization at a time when things were actually going well.

“When I saw that article drop, I couldn’t help but laugh,” said an Eastern Conference scout who previously worked with Russell. “It just doesn’t matter with him. If he feels a certain way, you’re going to learn about it, no matter whether the situation calls for it. It can help you sometimes. It’s good to have guys who are willing to say what needs to be said. But other times it’s like, man…read the room.”

Los Angeles values Reaves greatly and wants to put him in a much more stable situation with whoever he shares the backcourt with than last season, sources say. Last year, Russell did not like operating off of the ball and nothing has changed on that front. New head coach JJ Redick said he looks forward specifically to coaching Reaves, and many in the organization believe Reaves needs to spend more time on the ball than he did last year playing alongside Russell.

Sources say the focus would be to bring in a wing who can guard the other team’s best perimeter player and knock down threes in catch-and-shoot situations. Given Russell’s preferences, one could make a real argument he checks neither of those boxes.

Pelinka did speak at length at Redick’s introductory press conference about the challenges of moving draft capital and the value of player development under this new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), but after Alex Caruso was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for zero picks at all, league sources wondered whether that was merely an effort to keep asking prices down on impact players. Such efforts would probably be thrown for quite the loop with Mikal Bridges being acquired by the New York Knicks for five first-rounders and then some.

“Speaking about player development and holding onto picks when LeBron freakin’ James could ask out is ballsy bordering on crazy,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “You only do that if you know Bron is coming back or if you’re trying to get something else done.”

Still, if Pelinka is to be believed and the Lakers do use the No. 17 pick in this year’s draft, that would leave only two first-rounders to work with. Given that Pelinka has historically preferred to go into the season with at least one first-round pick at his disposal, the Lakers may only be looking to actually move one pick. That’s a far cry from the talk after last year’s unproductive trade deadline where Pelinka said he was looking ahead to this summer to be more aggressive.

So, if Russell does opt in, and the Lakers do canvas the league for the two-way player they covet, does his expiring contract, Jalen Hood-Schifino (whose name, sources say, has been mentioned in trade talks this summer as the Lakers prepare to draft Bronny James at the same position) and a first-rounder land them the kind of talent that would stabilize the backcourt? That’s certainly the hope, and it all starts with Russell’s decision.

Other Lakers Rumors

  • ESPN reported the Lakers are willing to offer James a three-year contract worth over $150 million. Sources close to the team say they maintain the utmost confidence he will accept such a deal and the plan for both sides is still to have him retire a Laker.
  • Intel on this draft has been brutally difficult to nail down because of the lack of star power at the top and the relative depth throughout the first round, but three names have popped up more often than others thus far for the Lakers (in no order): Dayton’s DaRon Holmes, Purdue’s Zach Edey and Baylor’s Yves Missi.
    • Information in general about the Lakers has been more difficult to come by after the Redick process was so public. Sources say the organization is supremely focused on clamping down leaks and all information will flow through Pelinka, Kurt and Linda Rambis, Tim Harris and Jeanie Buss.
  • Many throughout the league noticed Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt going unmentioned in Redick’s presser. Vanderbilt is a popular presence in the organization but the Lakers still have concerns about him on offense and are looking for two-way impact players on the wing.
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Anthony has spent the last decade-plus covering the Lakers either in written, audio or video form. He has written previously on the TrueHoop Network, Fansided and SB Nation. He founded Locked on Lakers, currently hosts Lakers Lounge and produces other podcasts for Audacy and 247Sports. His latest venture has been news breaking, which he looks forward to doing for Lakers Daily.