Shockingly, on a team coached by Byron Scott and led by Kobe Bryant in his retirement year, D’Angelo Russell saw his rookie year somewhat overshadowed by the hubbub of what became a calamitous coronation season for the franchise.
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By Russell’s own admission, mind you. Speaking to the media in the days before his second NBA training camp, the Laker guard admitted that his initial NBA offseason “was Looney Toons,” and that he “didn’t get nothing out of it.”
Hardly the nicest reflection on the Lakers – or, hopefully, former Lakers – support system.
Russell went on to say that he understood why the team’s rebuilding process had to take a backseat to Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour, even if it meant staving off needed development time. From a talk with Tania Ganguli at the Los Angeles Times:
“He deserved it; it was his time,” Russell said. “They expected so much from so many people, and then Kobe had his farewell tour, and it was just like, we put everything we had, expectations for everybody else, on hold. We gotta get through Kobe’s farewell tour and then we can continue with our process. So we kind of accepted that.”
He decided to “sit back and enjoy the show” that came with Bryant’s goodbye, and did. The losing, though, took a toll. And at 19, Russell felt he was navigating the new world of the NBA alone.
“Everything I went through was new, and there was no guidance from the people that were supposed to give me the guidance,” Russell said.
The “on hold” declaration isn’t all that damning. If you’re going to go “on hold” for your rookie year, as a teenaged NBA player, setting up behind a legend’s shot-happy “goodbye” can be argued away. Especially when the Lakers long ago committed to Bryant’s farewell tour and the business (as opposed to basketball) reasons behind it. The team managed to hang onto its lottery pick while selling out arenas, so all is good in that realm.
The idea that there “was no guidance from the people that were supposed to give me the guidance?” That’s not exactly the kindest reflection on the Laker organization as a whole.
Russell is taking a shot at former coach Byron Scott, whom he famously clashed with, and he’s more than allowed to dig into his ex-boss. After all, the Lakers themselves signed off on their thoughts regarding Scott’s acumen at leading the young Lakers when they fired Scott soon after Los Angeles’ 17-win 2015-16 turn.
The reach can’t just end with Scott, though. Bryant, returning veteran Metta World Peace and others in the Laker organization have to be included in this instance. They should have done a better job at making a franchise cornerstone’s rookie year a smoother run. Nick Young, who at age 31 literally acts half his age, probably gets a pass.
Scott’s replacement, the 36-year old Luke Walton, will act as a major upgrade on the bench. Not just because of Luke Walton’s age, of course, but because of the fact that just about every veteran and/or potential NBA head coach available would have been a better choice to lead the 2015-16 Lakers (featuring seven players born in the 1990s … and Nick Young) over someone like Byron Scott.
Leading a rebuilding team during a season featuring Kobe Bryant’s final year was not an impossible or even thankless task. At times, even Nick Young appeared to be a better fit at coaching this team than Byron Scott, because at least Nick Young deigned to speak with D’Angelo Russell.
D’Angelo Russell’s growing pains in his rookie year weren’t always due to a lack of support system, but there’s a good chance (with a new coach, and with 17 other shots per game, with Kobe gone, to go around) he’ll bust out in his second season.
One can only hope, as his star rises, that he’ll continue to throw shade on the record.
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