Few NBA players had as rough an end to the 2022-23 season as D'Angelo Russell, but the Los Angeles Lakers are sticking with him as their starting point guard.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham announced Russell will be the team's starting point guard this season while speaking with reporters Thursday, per Silver Screen & Roll. He also named Austin Reaves starting shooting guard, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis presumably taking two of the remaining three spots.
Russell, an acquisition at least season's trade deadline, signed a two-year, $37 million contract in free agency this offseason, but there was some question over whether he would continue starting due to the Lakers signing former Miami Heat starter Gabe Vincent to a three-year, $33 million contract.
While Russell was a significant upgrade over Russell Westbrook during the regular season, his performance against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals made his future in Los Angeles appear uncertain, from his 10-of-31 shooting (2-of-15 from deep) to a lackluster defensive effort.
By Game 4, Russell was playing only 15 minutes to finish off a sweep by the Nuggets.
Ham has apparently become optimistic about Russell in the time since:
“He’s been great with his communication all summer,” Ham said, per Silver Screen & Roll, “especially when he’s gotten back in the market around the guys. Just seeing him in workouts, seeing him in little pickup games, how he’s talking; he’s vocal, he’s encouraging the new guys, he’s talking through things with Bron and AD, they had a couple of workouts together just the three of those guys ... A lot was made about the way things finished against Denver and whatnot, but at the end of the day, we don’t get to where we got to without D’Angelo Russell.
“I’ll give you one, Dan [Woike, who asked about starters earlier]: 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, highly intelligent basketball player, one that is coming back with sort of a chip on his shoulder because 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 DLo, and I think he’s another one that’s going to have an outstanding season.”
The Lakers are essentially betting that one bad series doesn't make a player unplayable, especially after he helped turn around a previously moribund season and got them to the conference finals in the first place. He'll be worth watching early in the season, but the Lakers have already prepared themselves with a backup in Vincent.