In the end, Friday night’s game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers will be a footnote, with little influence on the ultimate impact of the June trade between the two teams. But for now, it is the first time the Nets and Lakers will face off after a franchise-altering deal.
When the Nets sent Brook Lopez to the Lakers in June, they exchanged one franchise centerpiece for a player they hope will become another, D’Angelo Russell. As he returns to Los Angeles, Russell is reticent about discussing any personal motivations against the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2015 and traded him after two seasons, preferring to focus on the team’s approach as they begin a five-game road trip.
“Just trying to make winning plays, whatever it takes,” said Russell. “Just getting out there. I know it’s going to be an exciting crowd. Just looking forward to getting that win and start off a good road trip for us.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t concerned about his 21-year-old guard getting carried away by his return to LA.
“I think D’Angelo Russell’s been in a lot of big games,” said Aktinson. “Ohio State. To me as a player, there’s always something. It’s your ex-team or you’re playing against a guy who’s a great player. The constant challenge of the NBA, it’s going on all the time. I think he’s used to it.”
Russell returns to Staples Center as Brooklyn’s leading scorer, averaging 21.7 points per game in just 26.4 minutes per game. He’s in the top 10 in the NBA in points per 100 possessions and per-36 minutes scoring average. Russell is also averaging 5.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game.
In exchange for Russell and center Timofey Mozgov, the Nets sent Lopez, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and their 2017 first-round draft pick, which the Lakers used to select Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma has been the Lakers’ third-leading scorer after three games, averaging 14.0 points coming off the ench and shooting 53 percent from the field.
Lopez’s nine seasons with the Nets were the most for any player in the franchise’s history. In addition to leading the team’s all-time list in scoring with 10,444 points, he’s No. 1 in blocks (972), No. 2 in games (562), and No. 3 in rebounds (4,005). Lopez averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in his nine seasons, including 20.5 points last season as he stepped up as a 3-point threat and connected for 34 percent of his attempts behind the arc, putting up 5.2 per game.
With the Lakers back in his home state of California, the Stanford product is averaging 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds while playing 23.4 minutes per game. He’s started all seven games for the Lakers.
“I’m a huge Brook Lopez fan,” said Atkinson. “I just think he’s one of the most professional people I’ve ever been around, one of the nicest people. He means a lot to this franchise. He did a lot of great things for the Nets. I think we all need to, I know I do personally, need to show him a lot of respect and appreciate all that he did for us last year helping keep it together through a tough season.”