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D’Angelo Russell: “I love New York, love New York”

Brooklyn Nets Media Day Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Sean Marks said it last week.

“So, with D’Angelo [Russell], we’ve had candid conversations with [him] just like we’ve had with all of our guys. It’s Kenny and myself, it’s the coaching staff with him. D’Angelo knows the expectations of him,” Marks said of Russell at last week’s press conference.

They laid down the expectations for the 21-year-old point guard right then and there. They know there is plenty to be happy about with Russell, but for the Nets — and Russell — this season is going to be about improvement. We know he can shoot, create, drive, and pass better than most his age.

But where do they want to see improvement out of Russell? They mentioned defense as part of it, but the main thing is leadership and how he gains chemistry with his teammates.

“The leadership? That’s in his court. We can certainly help him get there, and the position that he plays, you’ve got to be a leader at a certain extent,” Marks said.

Russell likes what the GM and coach say about him.

“To hear them [Marks and Atkinson] say that, I definitely take it into consideration and want to take as many leaps as you can with that,” Russell said at Media Day.

“I think it starts with earning your teammates’ respect, so the whole summer with me being here that’s what I started trying to do. And definitely we’ve got a good group of vets around that I can really learn from. DeMarre Carroll in general, he’s a great voice in the locker room that I can go to and ask for opinions on stuff like that, so I think it’ll be easier for me.”

Russell’s maturity was heavily scrutinized during (and after) his time in Los Angeles. After the trade, Magic Johnson came out and said he needed a leader after trading Russell. He said again on Monday at Lakers’ Media Day, "We needed a leader and have one," he said suggesting Lonzo Ball will be a better leader than Russell was.

The Ohio State product wasn’t put in the best position, however. His first year, Russell was an afterthought to Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour. And after the Iggy Azalea scandal, he was stuck in Byron Scott’s doghouse. He showed more potential in his second season.

But that was then, and this is now. Quite frankly, Russell always felt he was a leader.

“I’ve always considered myself a leader. I don’t think that has any role on it as far as getting traded for, and all that. I’ve always considered myself as a leader in general.”

A major part of becoming a leader is gaining trust from those around you. Marks and Atkinson are going to challenge him here.

“We all know that he makes players better,” Marks said. “He’s got a high basketball I.Q. Now how does he take that on the court with a new group of guys that he’s never played with before and how do they develop trust together. How does Caris [LeVert] and him develop trust together? How do Jeremy and D’Angelo get along on the court? Trevor Booker and D’Angelo, and so forth. How quickly does he pick up on their tendencies and where they like the ball and so forth?”

Off the court, Russell says he’s reached out to “everybody” on the team and it’s helped increased chemistry. He told NetsDaily over the summer that he hangs out with Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Isaiah Whitehead.

The Nets will have nine players return from last year’s squad. Continuity is there, but it must translate with new players coming in. So, why reach out to everybody on the team?

“They’re my new teammates. I want this to be home for me,” later adding, "I love New York. Love New York.”

Indeed, Russell appears to be buying in and ready to take the next step. The only way that will happen is if he listens to guys like Sean Marks, Kenny Atkinson, and the performance and analytics staffs. The only way it happens is if he gains the trust of his teammates and grows with them during the rebuilding process.

Many pundits have Russell on their lists to have a breakout year. He’s set up to do just that. The most important things, however, will be those that don’t show up in the box score — attitude, maturity, leadership.

The ball is in his court, figuratively and literally.