Lakers trade D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mozgov to Nets for Brook Lopez, 27th pick
The Lakers made two moves on Tuesday that strongly established the direction of their rebuilding project. They untethered themselves from of one of the team’s most expensive contracts, while dealing a young player who received mixed reviews about his development and maturity.Shortly after Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka began negotiating with the Indiana Pacers for forward Paul George, the Lakers traded third-year guard D’Angelo Russell and veteran center Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for center Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.The move gave the Lakers significant salary cap relief and enough room to sign two max-contract players in the 2018 offseason when George, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook might become available in free agency. While Mozgov had three years remaining on his $48 million contract, Russell had one more season on his rookie contract worth $5.5 million with a team option for $7 million the following season.Russell’s departure highlights the Lakers’ complicated feelings about his development after selecting him with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersOn one hand, Russell averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, numbers that only Johnson matched as a Laker in his sophomore season. On the other hand, several people in the Lakers organization had become increasingly frustrated with the lack of substantial improvement in his attitude and work habits. On a more practical level, the Lakers dealt Russell, 21, partly to accommodate the strong likelihood they will draft UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s draft.Despite the Lakers’ mixed feelings about Russell, one of his former teammates offered public support. Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. tweeted out a photo of him from last year’s Las Vegas Summer League when he mimicked Russell’s “ice-in-my-veins” gesture, pointing at the veins of his left forearm the way Russell would do after making a key shot.Mozgov, 30, provided modest production (7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds) before eventually losing his starting spot to rookie center Ivica Zubac last season. Lopez provided more significant contributions (20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds) for Brooklyn last season and enters this season with a less expensive price tag (his $22 million contract expires next summer). The Lakers view Lopez, 29, as a so-called “stretch-five” after he shot 34.6 percent from 3-point range (seventh best among NBA starting centers) on a league-leading 387 attempts among starting centers. The move also allows Zubac, 20, to grow without the pressure of being the team’s definitive starter.This might just mark the beginning of the Lakers’ offseason moves.The Pacers are “highly likely” to trade George before Thursday’s draft after his representatives informed them this week that he planned to become a free agent next season. The Lakers offered a combination that includes fourth-year forward Julius Randle, 22, or fourth-year guard Jordan Clarkson, 25, as well as the No. 27 and No. 28 picks, according to sources. On Tuesday evening, talks were at a standstill over the Pacers’ hope to extract more from the deal, sources said. Though the Pacers might want more in a deal, the Lakers have gone into these conversations holding firm on two things. They want to keep their No. 2 pick and 19-year-old second-year forward Brandon Ingram, something they have reiterated while making and listening to trade proposals this spring. Although Ingram averaged 9.4 points on only 40.2 percent shooting and has a wiry frame, he has impressed the Lakers with his steady improvement, positional versatility, defense, ball handling, aggressiveness and post play. The Lakers have also heard from draft prospects that they would like to play with him.Though the Lakers have remained reluctant to trade their No. 2 pick to Indiana, TNT reporter David Aldridge reported the Lakers offered it to Sacramento for its fifth and 10th picks. Though the Kings declined the offer, Aldridge reported the Lakers planned to offer one of Sacramento’s picks along with their 27th and 28th picks to Indiana for George.All of this leaves the Lakers in a precarious situation. They could wait for George, who has told the Pacers he plans to join the Lakers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, in hopes of complementing him with a talented and, at that point, further developed roster. But banking on George not changing his mind over the next 12 months could leave the Lakers vulnerable. The Pacers almost surely would trade him to another team, which would then have a season to convince George to sign a long-term deal with them. While the Clippers had preliminary discussions about George, the Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Wizards are among other teams that have reportedly talked to the Pacers.The Lakers and Pacers are expected to resume talks on Wednesday, when the Lakers will also learn if forward Nick Young plans to exercise his $5.7 million player option for next season.Staff writer Bill Oram contributed to this report.