“This may not be a fun conversation to have between Russell and head coach Darvin Ham,” wrote Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report on September 1. “Moving the 27-year-old to a sixth man role may be the best thing for both him and the franchise.”
Russell, 27, returned to the Lakers on a two-year, $36 million contract in free agency after they re-acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the trade deadline in February. He started all 17 of his appearances during the regular season but saw his role dwindle along with his play during the postseason.
Swartz notes the full-guaranteed three-year, $33 million contract that Vincent got in comparison to Russell’s contract which has an $18.7 million player option for the 2024-25 season. Russell also waived the customary trade veto power in a move some consider a precursor for a trade.
It’s not just because of the money. There are basketball reasons to believe that both Russell and the Lakers would benefit from a change to the starting lineup.
Gabe Vincent Complements LeBron James, Starters
“In a starting lineup that already features LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves, the Lakers would be better off with Vincent’s steady hand at point guard,” Swartz continued. “The move would also be good for Russell, giving him more scoring opportunities by coming off the bench with the second unit.”
This idea has been floated before thanks both to Vincent’s strengths and Russell’s weaknesses.
“Gabe Vincent may not be the most talented player the Lakers added this summer,” wrote Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report on August 20. “On paper, Vincent looks like a seamless fit with LeBron James.”
Though both are the same age, Swartz notes that Russell may have a higher ceiling compared to Vincent.
He also points out that Russell is at his best as a high-usage player.
“Russell can still explode for some random 30-point nights and inject some energy off the bench with his scoring chops,” Swartz wrote. “All while Vincent (1.4 turnovers per game) helps play mistake-free basketball in the opening lineup while letting the stars shine.”
Darvin Ham Wants Lakers to Buy In
This is a good problem for Ham to have, flush with so many options. And he has spoken of everyone needing to buy in.
“I think the sky is the limit for what we will be able to do,” said Ham, per Leonard Solms of ESPN on August 14. “A coach I worked for always used to always say, ‘The most together team will win.’”
Russell feels the same way, noting that Ham has options for who starts and plays.
“We got a lot of bodies so trying to give the team what it needs every night to win, I think that’s got to be our focus,” said Russell on the “Pat Bev Podcast with Rone” on August 2. “And whatever or however it gets done, if everybody’s locked into just giving the team what it needs that night … it’s got to be right play, right mentality type of energy for our group.”