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D’Angelo Russell: The next big thing

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Getting a projected lottery pick eight picks south of the lottery is a good thing but the big news Thursday night was word that D’Angelo Russell is a Net.

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Slowly but surely, the Brooklyn Nets are making moves in the right direction.

It’s been an interesting couple of days for the Nets. Plain and simple. They traded away their franchise-leading scorer. It hurt for more than just sentimental reasons. But in return, they acquired a 21-year-old rising star with potential . Not to mention, they surprised us yet again with an intriguing pick in the draft.

In a weird way, things are looking up.

The trade that sent Brook Lopez to L.A. for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov became official Thursday night at the NBA Draft. The Nets utilized one of their resources (Prokhorov’s bulging wallet) and took on a bad contract. They used another resource (a big asset) in Lopez. And finally, they showed that they’re open-minded to everything. A few months ago, people would’ve called Sean Marks crazy for trading one of his precious picks. But certainly not in this case.

Not in this case because of what came back. D’Angelo Russell is a 6’5” combo guard with an array of offensive weapons, including great court vision. He’s also 21-years-old, younger than 40 of the 60 players the Nets worked out before the Draft, and is coming off a 15.6-point, 4.8-assist campaign in his sophomore year with the Lakers. He’s had maturity problems in the past, but he also came into the league at 19-years-old dropped into Los Angeles ... and Kobe Bryant’s final year. He also had two different coaches.

It’s not excuse for his actions which truth be told didn’t rise to much more than mistakenly posting about a teammate’s infidelity and dating a Kardashian. Character maven Sean Marks is cool with it. So why shouldn’t we?

Russell’s dropped 40 in a game this season – 39 against the Nets last season. He dropped seven three’s in the first game, eight in the second. Last time a Nets guard did that kind of damage, he wore No. 8 and was healthy. He has the ability to go off. In a premature, yet appropriate way. He’s getting a second chance. He’s giving people a reason to forget his Los Angeles antics in Brooklyn. He can forget too.

This only works if he abides by the Nets’ culture. Kenny Atkinson will need to get to him the way he’s done with so many other talented players in the league, both as an assistant and head coach. D’Angelo Russell has a swagger to him that brings to mind the words that Mikhail Prokhorov once used to describe the players he wanted to populate the Nets with. Something along the lines of, "playing in New York is a different animal." He can. Remember the whole “ice in my veins thing”? It’s a small example, but that’s the type of stuff fans in Brooklyn love (and haven’t had a lot of): swagger.

That swag can’t become an egotistical thing, however. He’s being given the keys to something special here. L.A. is tough in its own way and playing for the Lakers with all that history is real pressure. Now, it’s the more cosmopolitan New York. where there is a broader range of targets than Hollywood celebrities. There are still gossip columns but they’re more genteel if no less cutting.

Being a star in New York is an opportunity he can grasp the way Deron Williams couldn’t. And that’s not to single out Deron, but let’s be real: Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and the guys from Boston never held the “keys” to the franchise. Deron could be the most talented of the bunch when he was right. No dispute.

And that’s going to be the case with D’Angelo. He’ll have the talent, the swagger, that Brooklyn craves. But it won’t work if he can’t mature and play team basketball under Atkinson. Maybe under the old Nets or even his former Lakers, but not with these Nets. You leave your ego at the door. Any trouble or distractions to the team, players will find their way out that same door.

This is why it’s all so important. It goes back to that culture thing we always talk about.

Specifically, here’s what Marks said Thursday night, after the trade was made official: “We’ve talked to Jeremy, Caris, Rondae and the other players, they’re excited about getting a young player with a lot of upside. I’m not concerned about the maturity and so forth.

“What I’m concerned about is what he brings and the culture and so forth – to develop him as a basketball player and as a young man.”

There were some telling lines in Marks statement. He spoke with Jeremy Lin, Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson about this. These are now, with the departure of Lopez, three of his leaders and he’s confiding in them. He wants their perspective and they will hear his. They know it can work. As a matter of fact, they believe the Lin-Russell duo will excel, but everyone has to buy in.

Marks also swore he isn’t concerned about maturity. But he did finish off by saying he’s not only going to develop him as a basketball player, but as “a young man.” It almost sounds like something out of the movie, Coach Carter. Of course he’s heard about the antics in D’Angelo’s past, plus others we’re probably not aware of. Yet he still took him in. He wouldn’t have done that if he thought he couldn’t progress and/or would bring distractions to the process, the vision he has in place.

The Nets GM also made a passing reference the Nets new backcourt and included Caris LeVert in a three-man mix.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This team is a work in progress coming off a 20-win season and a 21-win season before that. At one point they were 1-27. There are many positions to fill and one or two players will not fix this overnight.

That being said, little by little, the Nets are taking steps in the right direction. Nobody thought Brook Lopez had much value, with the approaching end of contract and continuing foot issues . So, Marks found a way for him to have value in a package and brought back a no. 2 overall pick from two years back. They lost their 27 pick, but one could argue that DLo is essentially a second draft pick this year and a high one, a very high one.

It's almost as if D’Angelo Russell needed a restart button. Just like the Nets did. And hey, the Nets still control that “Brooklyn’s Backcourt” trademark. It could work this time.