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Woj: Kenny Atkinson key to making D’Angelo Russell work

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In a podcast that aired Wednesday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of Draft Express praised the Nets’ acquisition of D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers, adding the key to the deal is Kenny Atkinson’s development skills.

Woj said the Nets had been “tracking [Russell] for some time” and that “the Nets talked with Atlanta throughout the day (about another salary dump) and over the last couple of days with the Lakers. Both deals going back and forth” until an agreement was reached that afternoon with L.A. The Nets sent Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in Thursday’s draft to L.A. for Russell and Timofey Mozgov.

Now, said Woj, it’s up to Atkinson, whose development work is getting recognized around the league.

“I think Brooklyn ... the environment is just going to be basketball,” Woj added, saying that “the coaching, I think Kenny Atkinson, for him” will be crucial.

“Players get better under him. I thought the group in Brooklyn played hard there all year. He's gonna get up into D'Angelo. I think [Russell] may look back on this day and say this was a good day for his career.”

Woj also noted that Atkinson is “the first development coach to break out of that mold to become a head coach. There's never been a guy, a development guy as a head coach.”

Russell’s problem in L.A., Woj said, was L.A.

“I think for him getting away from L.A. --L.A. is a lot to handle when you're 19 years old, and the Lakers — It's hard when you're 18, 19, 20 years old being there.”

Russell indeed showed up more than once in gossip columns, dating or being friends with Kendall Jenner of the Kardashian clan, having an ugly split with Niki Withers, USC volleyball star (who dissed him Wednesday in a tweet published by the New York Post).

Givony said he was “shocked” by the trade and agreed that Brooklyn —and Atkinson’s practices— are ideal for Russell.

“I love this trade for the Nets. I opened my Twitter feed and saw this happening. I was shocked that the Nets were able to get the No. 2 pick in the draft two years ago for taking on $32 million in salary... Mozgov,” said Givony.

He said he thought the Lakers decision to give up on Russell was “premature.”

“Like you said, there was some pessimism arroud Russell. but I think it was premature. The problem with drafting one-and done guys is that they play like one and done

guys their first two years of their careers. Then yu go from this incredible asset, the No. 2 pick in the draft, which you know this year gets you Lonzo Ball to a salary dump.

The Draft Express guru who lives in Brooklyn said he’s looking forward to watching Russell at Barclays.

“I am very excited to have D'Angelo Russell 25 minutes walking distance from my house. I went to a lot of Nets games last year. I actually enjoyed watching them because they played really hard and they had principles, they had a system, they were competitive. They were in games.”

The two reserved their highest praise for Marks. Woj said the Nets had been trying to move Lopez for a while without any luck.

“[They] had to get something for him going into the last year of his deal,” Woj said. “They tried at the trade deadline. They tried earlier. They had to flip his contract now as an expiring, now when it had value.

“For the Nets to get D'Angelo Russell ... “ he concluded, his voice trailing off, as if in astonishment.

“I am very very impressed by the job Sean Marks has done so far,” he added. “I mean if you look at what he inherited, when he came in, which was one of the worst roster situations, I can recall in 10 to 15 years to actually having some semblance of optimism now. There's some things to look forward to.”