Thankfully for the Sixers, they got most of their bad public relations / explosive incidents out of the way in the first half of the season. The Lakers, however, appear to be an internal disaster as the season comes to a close.
Just one night after Rodney Hood dumped eight threes on L.A. in one half, ESPN's Baxter Holmes dropped this story about the locker-room drama surrounding rookie guard D'Angelo Russell:
Sources told ESPN.com that some teammates' trust in Russell is eroding after a video surfaced in the past week that shows Russell recording a private conversation between himself and teammate Nick Young. Young does not appear to realize he is being taped.
The emergence of the video, sources said, has been the talk of the locker room for the past several days and has led to a tangible strain between Russell and some teammates.
At a recent breakfast meeting, one source said, no Laker would sit with Russell at his table. The source added that, in another instance, Russell came into the locker room and sat next to guard Lou Williams, who got up and walked away.
Seems like a terrible situation! When adult professionals are going through an exercise that mimics a scene straight out of a tween comedy, you probably have an issue on your hands. Say what you will about Jahlil Okafor's antics, but the team retained unity through his early-season blips.
With the locker room in Los Angeles looking increasingly untenable, it's not out of the question to wonder if Russell will find his name on the trade block in the offseason. The Lakers will almost certainly turn much of the locker room over this summer, but it would take a complete exodus to remove everyone connected to this snafu at the moment.
Professional relationships are important, particularly in a field where chemistry and trust are vital to success. NBA teams are extraordinarily small and spend an exorbitant amount of time together; if there's one guy nobody trusts in the 15-man unit traveling around the country together, it's hard to imagine him lasting long. Frankly, I'm sure none of those guys really give a damn about Young's love life, but they sure do about Russell airing it to the public.
This begs the question of whether the Sixers should look into trading for Russell in the offseason. The answer is more complicated than you might think.
On the surface, Russell makes all the sense in the world as a "fit" -- hello, point guard that can shoot! -- in addition to being the sort of distressed asset Sam Hinkie has shown an instinct to chase. You saw it when he drafted Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, you saw it when he acquired Nik Stauskas for nothing a year after he was drafted top-10.
Russell has been up and down thanks to his own shortcomings and a nonsense approach from Byron Scott, but his numbers since the All-Star break are promising. He's hovering around 41 percent from three during that stretch, duplicating the type of shooting that drew attention at Ohio State and generating more consistent flashes of his talent.
The numbers aren't spectacular otherwise but he's been forced to split duties with a boatload of chuckers and ball-dominant types, so there's a lot of noise to sort through. He was expected to have one of the steepest curves of any rookie even prior to Scott's demolition job at the helm, so I'm not all that fazed by it. That said, his playmaking has come in fits and starts, and it's hard to know whether the answer is needing more opportunities/guidance or that he's simply not as good as advertised.
I would, however, pause at some of the mental/off-the-court stuff that seems to be popping up. Scott has openly challenged his maturity all season, and while it's easy to use the headstrong coach as a piñata this seems to indicate he may have been partially right. Even in the most favorable light, secretly taping personal conversations with teammates is stupid and immature.*
Even with all of this, Russell's value isn't likely to drop a whole lot. In other words, you're probably giving up one of the Sixers young bigs if you're serious about trading for him. At this point, I'd tentatively pass on that opportunity.
Okafor has been better at doing his "thing" than Russell, and despite his troubles teammates and coaches have gone to bat for him as a person. Noel for Russell might be a fairer base for a trade (and make more sense for the Lakers, in dire need of a rim-protector) but a defense with Russell at the point of attack and Okafor at the rim might give up 700 points per game. I value Russell's strengths a lot philosophically, but he has raised some eyebrows in the worst way even if you're dead set on moving one of the bigs.
With the Sixers bumbling their way toward all-time futility, let's take advantage of someone else's misfortune for once. Would you trade one of the big men for D'Angelo Russell?
*Editor's Note: I'll stop short of saying Russell is to blame -- he and Swaggy are both wrong for violating the personal trust of people close to them -- Russell is just in the trickier predicament with regard to his professional life. The only victim in this is Iggy Azalea. I'm no fan of hers, but having to find out about your partner's infidelity through leaked videos the whole world can access is tremendously awful and a problem I wouldn't wish on anyone.