Sometime this month, the NBA regular-season schedule will drop, giving us dates, ticket sales, and Cersei Lannister–level reprisal. For those traded, or dissed, or doubted by a former team or teammate, there’s one (or two, or four) special date to circle on that calendar. Which performances will be the most malicious this season?
D’Angelo Russell vs. the Lakers
“I have nothing to do with you.”
That’s D’Angelo Russell speaking to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but really speaking to his former front-office chief, Magic Johnson. If those are the words the point guard has for Magic, whom he calls “one of the greatest of all time,” then the nonverbal, on-court message will be nasty.
Locking in on defense isn’t the specialty Russell is known to serve up; when looking at all players who logged more than 25 games, last season's Lakers experienced their worst defensive rating with DLo on the floor. But he’ll try when the Nets play Los Angeles, and he’ll be matched against his replacement, Lonzo Ball.
Before Lonzo was being compared to Magic (by Magic), Russell was drawing that parallel. The former no. 2 overall pick was flattered to be seen in the same light as a legend — until that legend traded him, said he had no friends, and trashed his playmaking.
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” Magic said after the trade. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us, but what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better, and also that players want to play with.”
Russell originally called the comments “an honor,” then “irrelevant,” finally telling Wojnarowski on his podcast that he was “definitely” blindsided. “I didn’t know what the reason behind it was. I’m off your hands. I have nothing to do with you. I’m on a new team. I didn’t understand the comment. I still don’t.”
DeMarcus Cousins vs. the Kings
A 6-foot-11, 270-pound man known for showcases of passion and technical fouls wants closure; we want to watch.
"I can't wait [to play Sacramento],” Boogie told The Undefeated on Thursday. “Oh, my God. I can't wait. I'm praying it's the first game. I just got a lot to get off my chest. I can't wait.”
Cousins found out he was traded minutes after participating in the All-Star game, which is like playing in the Employee of the Month softball game only to find out Craig from HR wants to “touch base” on Monday. The week before, the Kings front office told DMC personally that he wasn’t getting dealt, reiterating what GM Vlade Divac bellowed to the rest of the world in early February. After the team moved Boogie, Divac reasoned that “character matters,” touching on the many rumors of Cousins negatively affecting the locker room. (Though if character matters, the franchise should have been looking outside the locker room. Darren Collison, who had pleaded guilty to domestic battery last fall, was still on the roster, and just the summer before, Sac had signed Matt Barnes, also arrested on domestic violence charges (they were later dropped), and Ty Lawson, who has a history of DUI arrests). Character — like having enough to not mislead an employee of seven years — matters.
Hide the young backcourt, Vivek.
LeBron James vs. Whatever Team Kyrie Gets Traded To
Quick question: If Kyrie doesn’t want to play with LeBron anymore, does he realize that means he has to play against LeBron?
I don’t know what a vengeance game looks like from the King, because no one has ever left him. He does the packing: first from the city he called home, then again from Miami, a championship team, and his best friend. Because of who he is, LeBron can recruit like Tom Herman; because of his short-term contracts, LeBron can, also like Herman, leave those commitments behind.
LeBron’s right-hand man is exercising that option, even though Kyrie has two years left on his contract. And if he is dealt, he’ll no longer be on the wrong side of these—
—but he’d better get ready for some of these.