With the Los Angeles Lakers boasting a 21-3 record this season, it’s easy to forget some of the difficult years they’ve had to endure recently. Among the most arduous situations for fans was the organization’s handling of former second overall pick D’Angelo Russell who struggled to adjust to life in the NBA through Kobe Bryant’s farewell your, the Nick Young scandal, and of course the relationship with head coach Byron Scott.
Since being traded by the Lakers, Russell has earned an All-Star designation in Brooklyn and is now one of the lone bright spots of a dark season for the injured and spiraling Golden State Warriors. That career path was not always predictable and the young point guard opened up to Anthony Slater of The Athletic about how his relationship with Scott affected his rookie season and Lakers tenure:
When Scott yanked Russell, he’d take the long way back to the bench. Using his right hand, he’s tracing the looping route — from the left wing, meandering down toward the opposite baseline before finally curling to the deepest part of his team’s sideline. It wasn’t subtle. It was done with an obvious purpose.
“So I didn’t have to shake the coach’s hands,” Russell recalled. “I’d do little shit like that.”
Then he’d get to the bench, sit next to one of his teammates and grumble. Grumble about Scott, grumble about the imperfect situation he’d been drafted into, grumble like the teenager he was.
“But what you don’t understand is, hey, there’s a guy right here,” Russell said, pointing over his left shoulder to the second row of seats behind the bench, reserved for lower-level assistant coaches. “And that guy is relaying everything you’re saying. You don’t understand that.”
Scott rightfully took a lot of blame for that situation from his irregular minutes distributions to the young players to his postgame comments questioning their effort and hard work.
Of course, Russell also deserved part of that blame and he’s quick to admit that. Speaking to Slater, Russell detailed that he had a poor approach to shootarounds and practices and did not take away enough knowledge from a guy like Bryant.
At the end of the day, Russell came into the league as an immature 19-year-old and the Lakers organization – in particular Scott – did not do enough to nurture an environment where he could be successful and grow on and off the court.
While it may be disappointing that it never happened in LA, it’s good to see that Russell is finally coming into his own and turning into the player he always showed flashes of being capable of becoming.