This has been a banner week for the Los Angeles Lakers coaching staff.
While he was busy feuding with President Trump, LaVar Ball found time to criticize Lakers head coach Luke Walton for “babying” Lonzo Ball. Lakers assistant Jesse Mermuys reportedly told Devin Booker to “stop [expletive] flopping” from the sidelines, prompting the Phoenix Suns phenom to approach the bench and later tell reporters, “If you’re not my coach, I don’t know you. Don’t saying anything to me.”
And now we have Lakers assistant Brian Shaw getting caught on a hot NBA TV microphone bashing former player D’Angelo Russell during a conversation with ex-Orlando Magic teammate Dennis Scott.
An astute Redditor caught the exchange on Tuesday, posting the link and timestamp to the video, which appeared on the NBA TV’s Facebook page as part of a regular series from the league’s morning shootarounds. The Facebook link stayed up for almost 24 hours before NBA TV finally took it down.
The internet never rests, though, and some sleuths made sure we could still hear the exchange. After Shaw and Scott got through speaking about issues concerning the Lakers while players got up shots, Scott put his microphone behind his back, seemingly signaling that the segment was over. Only the cameras kept rolling, and the mic never shut off, which meant we were treated to this back-and-forth:
Scott: “It looks like they work, though, huh?”
Shaw: “Yeah, they do. They do. You know, like last year, we had D’Angelo. He was just bulls***ing all the time and didn’t put it in.”
Bouncing balls jumbled the next few lines, and then Scott chimed in with, “Somebody didn’t do their homework,” before the camera finally cut back to the studio. So, yeah, you get a sense for how Shaw and the Lakers coaching staff felt about Russell last season, which is to say they weren’t huge fans.
We kind of understood that when the Lakers threw Russell into a salary-dumping trade of Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets over the summer, making room for Ball as their starting point guard of the future. It became clearer still when Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson essentially described Russell as someone who wasn’t all that well-liked by his teammates:
“D’Angelo is an excellent player. 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.”
It may be true that the Lakers didn’t believe Russell was a leader and felt he was “bulls***ing” during practice, but let’s not pretend the organization put him in the best position to succeed from the start.
Almost as soon as Russell arrived in L.A. as a 19-year-old, ex-Lakers coach Byron Scott saw no value in playing his No. 2 overall pick, even in blowout losses, choosing instead to let a past-his-prime Kobe Bryant chuck 17 shots per game at 36 percent throughout his farewell season. Scott openly criticized Russell’s work ethic before and after the Lakers fired him in favor of Walton, and the franchise seemed to shun him after the Nick Young video incident. Which, again, occurred when Russell was a teenager.
We knew the questions about Russell’s maturity carried over despite the regime change to Walton, if only because Scott again told us so. “I don’t know if his work ethic has gotten any better,” Scott said this past May. “Some of the people I’ve talked to in the organization said that it hasn’t. I just wish him all the best. The maturity level will catch up to him sooner or later when he realizes it’s an honor and a privilege to be in the NBA and be in the position that he’s in. He has to take full advantage of it.”
A month later, he was traded. On multiple occasions, Russell has said that the Lakers’ treatment of him before and after the trade was something he had to overcome, which isn’t the best reflection of their stewardship of his career. The change of scenery did Russell good, as he averaged career highs for the Nets in points (20.9), assists (5.7) and rebounds (4.7) per game, true shooting percentage (53.9) and player efficiency rating (19.5) over the first few weeks of this season, before suffering an injury.
“No matter what you’ve been through or what’s going on ahead, a fresh start’s always good,” Russell said shortly before scoring 17 points in his return to L.A. earlier this month “It’s a new opportunity, and just to be in the league in general, no matter what team you’re on, you still want to be in the league. You see guys come and go every year. Just to be in the league is a pleasure.”
Maybe the Lakers could’ve tapped into that Russell, or maybe it took the trade to Brooklyn for him to find the necessary motivation. Either way, Russell failed the Lakers no more than they failed him, so maybe it’s time for the L.A. front office and coaching staff to stop bashing him publicly and privately.
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