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D’Angelo Russell ends up with the last laugh as Magic Johnson steps down

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Magic Johnson stepped down as President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. During his near hour-long spiel discussing his departure, Johnson brought up D’Angelo Russell, who he had unceremoniously dumped two years ago. True to form, Johnson couldn’t be gracious.

“[We] had to give up a really talented young player in D’Angelo Russell. And congratulations to him making the [All-Star team], I couldn’t even say it. Also, we saw D’Angelo mature. He wasn’t mature like he is now. He always had the talent to score, but he was immature. Now he’s grown up and that’s why he’s an All-Star.”

Sounds like another slap in the face coated with a compliment at the same time. Much like his comments when he traded DLo to the Nets.

No matter. This situation is the death of irony. Russell is having the best season of his four-year career, an All-Star averaging career-highs for points and assists per game while leading the underdog Nets into the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

The irony (or lack of same) is obvious: Johnson critiquing DLo for immaturity while admitting he hadn’t even told his boss, Jeanie Buss, that he was leaving, but instead letting it all hang out at an impromptu press conference.

For the record, here are Magic’s disparaging final words for the then 20 year old.

“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 [somebody] that players want to play with.”

Well, okay then.

D’Angelo Russell got the last laugh in the end – and he’s only 23. The Lakers needed a leader, so they traded Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball, who’s played a total of 99 games in two seasons. The Lakers needed somebody who would make others better, so they acquired LeBron James in the offseason. Some time after acquiring James, Magic tried to basically trade the entire Lakers’ young core for Anthony Davis, which ultimately failed.

They improved by two games and missed the playoffs by more than 10 games. Draw your own conclusions.

Russell probably won’t say one bad thing about Magic when he’s asked about him. Shoot – he might even wish him well because he’s onto bigger and better things with a bright future ahead of him — one that includes a big check.

His Nets are slated for a matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers or Toronto Raptors in the playoffs and in Brooklyn, in Russell’s new mindset, there’s no looking back. He’s only looking forward.

But as they say in The Godfather, revenge is a dish best served cold. And if you’re D’Angelo Russell right now, there’s got to be a sense of payback in that he proved everybody from his time in L.A. wrong.

Others might say, “What the Lakers needed was a leader…”