D’Angelo Russell was putting up the best numbers of his three-year career in a new role, with new scenery in Brooklyn. This season was supposed to be all about developing guys, but also to preview what it will look like with Russell manning the point.
For Russell, 21, it was like playing with house money in that the Nets had very few expectations ... and he could finally play free.
Then, the Nets announced that he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after initially announcing it as a knee contusion. There is no timetable on his return, but it doesn’t sound like he will be back any time soon. The reality is that there is no reason for him to be rushed back.
Call it deflation, but Kenny Atkinson says that Russell remains in high spirits and ready to lead from the sidelines.
“‘I want to get back. I want to help the team,’” said Atkinson about the conversation he had with Russell before Friday’s game vs. Utah. “He talked about the game tonight and what we need to do. He’s engaged, he’s involved, hasn’t distanced himself. So, positive spirit, yes.”
Atkinson went on to explain how Russell is prepared to lead from the sidelines and be there for his teammates. Atkinson needs it that way, especially from his injured point guards.
“Be engaged with the group. I think any of our guys that are out, whether it’s Jarrett Allen, D’Angelo Russell, Jeremy Lin, we like to keep those guys engaged,” said Atkinson. “I’m in constant contact. There’s no, ‘Forget about you, you’re over there.’ Especially with point guards, you want to hear their opinion. ‘What did you see?’ They help me. He’s good, and Jeremy has been good with that. So, continue that engagement and keep them involved with what we’re doing.”
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, we’ve heard a whole lot about “leading from the sidelines” this year. However, it’s better than nothing and even with you’re in street clothes, it comes with that PG job. They all see one another as a family, injured or not.
“I would like to think that we won for him though, because our heart goes out to him, he is our teammate and our brother. We feel for him in this time,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, who propelled the Nets to victory with a career-high 25 points on Friday.
Brooklyn’s been fortunate with Dinwiddie, who’s averaging 16 points and seven assists in four starts this season, nearly 20 and eight in the three games without Russell . It coincides with Brooklyn’s ‘next man up’ mentality they’ve tried to keep since Lin went down on Opening Night in Indiana.
“Of course you hate to hear news like that,” said Allen Crabbe. “It’s exactly the same thing with Jeremy (Lin), you hate to hear that about your teammates. At this time, there’s nothing we can do. Guys just have to step up now. Roles kind of change, guys just have to do a little bit more. I think guys are approaching it the right way right now, but I feel like if we just continue to stick together, keep playing basketball, keep fixing the things we have to fix, we’ll be alright.”
Sounds like a company man in Atkinson’s culture.
“We have a good group of wings, and guards,” said Atkinson. “I think we’ve developed sufficiently enough to withstand injuries. So Spencer (Dinwiddie) obviously will continue in his role, Isaiah (Whitehead), Caris (LeVert), and SK (Sean Kilpatrick) will be in that mix, too.”
“We’ll do it by committee; that’s how we do things,” he added.
The Nets don’t appear to be stressing too much, but this isn’t something to overlook. Russell has had issues in both of his knees since entering the league. Moreover, this makes things all that much tougher for continuity purposes and learning the new system.
So the Nets will try to practice what they preach and come together to keep this thing tight. That being said, you wonder when these Brooklyn Nets are going to catch a break.