Since last June, fans and pundits alike have wondered out loud whether the Los Angeles Lakers made the right decision in drafting D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick. Russell had his ups and downs and an unfortunate off-court incident with Nick Young added more fuel to the critical fire. But overall, the young point guard had a successful season, culminating in being placed on the second All-NBA Team at the conclusion of the year.
Despite the success and the potential shown on the court, however, Russell has not quite shaken off the criticism and the questions. Those questions become even louder considering a prospect that was drafted two spots later: Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks rookie had a great first season of his own, especially shocking everyone with a strong start before hitting a bit of a wall to finish the year. Nevertheless, his potential as a big man who can protect the rim and hit threes has many drooling.
One of those people is, of course, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson. The former Lakers head coach appears to feel strongly about his young protege as he should. And now he is taking that confidence to the press. More notably, Jackson spoke about the Lakers passing on the big man with the MSG Network (transcribed by Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk and brought to our attention by Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll).
“We knew that he had a lot of talent. We saw that even in the workout with him shooting. And I had some fun with one of the Buss guys, and I told him after the workout: “You guys are going to be sorry if you don’t pick up Porzingis with the second pick.” They didn’t, we did.”
If you think this is weird, it’s because it is. If Jackson is so happy about Porzingis falling to the Knicks (and he should be!) why did he allegedly tell the Lakers to draft him? That just doesn’t sound like smart management. I get that he’s joking, but still, this is very weird. Basically, peak Phil.
At this point in their respective careers, I think both franchises are happy with the players they chose. D’Angelo is a potential star and has the temperament to thrive in Los Angeles. Porzingis is a unique talent with star potential of his own and is already endearing himself to Knicks fans.
Years from now, we can evaluate the Lakers decision to draft Russell over the Latvian big man, but for now, I think the Lakers and their fans are more than content with how that draft shaped up.