The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping this season is the beginning of a new, successful era. D’Angelo Russell had a frustrating rookie season playing under possibly the worst coach in the NBA. He feels this year is going to be different.
Byron Scott wasn’t supposed to succeed in his job as the Lakers head coach. He wasn’t named the tank commander for nothing. But while tanking, there needs to be some sense of building towards something, especially if you’ve added players you’re counting on for the future. Russell was the second overall pick in 2015. The Lakers should have treated him like their point guard of the future, not someone who is getting in the way of giving Kobe Bryant the most megalomaniac farewell season in NBA history.
Russell said this week that he got nothing out of last season, although he did point out that personally he could have done better. He didn’t trash Byron Scott personally, but to hear him rave about his new head coach Luke Walton, and mentioning Walton actually coaching him through stuff, designating him to be one of the team’s leaders, suggests he wasn’t exactly happy with the previous coaching style of Scott. Scott refers to himself as tough, defensive, old school. But his record as a coach in the last few years suggests something else: Incompetent.
Russell averaged 13.2 points with 3.3 assists per game last season, playing 28.2 minutes a night. He shot 41% from the field and 35.1% from three. He’s expected, and expects himself, to do a lot better in Year 2. While Summer League ball is often misleading, Russell was flat out dominant in Las Vegas, averaging 21.8, 6.3 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He’s not going to be the sole ball handler, but he’s going to play a lot more “real point guard” minutes than before, and probably not suffer through weird benchings and illogical minute allocations, which seemed like a technique Scott was using to break down Russell instead of helping him develop.
The social dynamics for the Lakers and especially those surrounding Russell will be interesting to follow. His leaked recording of Nick Young referring to the latter cheating on Iggy Azalea was, for a moment, something that looked like it would force the Lakers to trade Russell. Rumors of players ignoring him at practice and on the court hinted the same thing. But Young, a player who is still on contract but basically at the end of his NBA career, seems to have gotten past that, and is trying to make amends with Russell, a player who is much more important to the Lakers future.