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For Nets, D’Angelo Russell’s future depends on his present, not his past

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Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

He was hurt most of last year, after being traded and dissed publicly by one of the game’s all-time greats. Now he’s in a contract year and there’s speculation about how much of a future he has with the Nets.

But in recent weeks, D’Angelo Russell has started to prove his worth. Over his past four games, as Brian Lewis points out, his numbers are more than solid: 17.8 points per game, 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and just 0.75 turnovers. That’s three turnovers in four games.

“His maturity, his consistency, that’s what we’re starting to see,” Kenny Atkinson told Brian Lewis. “That’s the challenge for him. It’s not on-again, off-again. We need more on from him, and I think he’s starting to get over that hurdle. He looked really good physically, too, against Denver. He really got after it.”

Keenly aware that DLo is still young, Atkinson thinks he’ll be fine.

“It takes you awhile to figure out,” the coach added. “To figure out the league, figure out your routine, figure out your habits. It takes time, and I think it’s just more of a maturity thing.”

As for Russell, he’s been consistent in one area since he arrived in Brooklyn. He likes it here and has always been about the team.

“Yeah I just think the whole atmosphere is getting better and better every day,” Russell said. “We come in for work, it’s a privilege just to put on a Nets uniform versus being someone that’s just thrown into that. But yeah, they’re making major changes, and I think success is around the corner.”

How much is he part of the Nets future? Michael Scotto of the Athletic suggested the Nets would have been willing to part with him in a Jimmy Butler trade scenario, writing Monday, “the Nets kicked the tires briefly on talks involving D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and a salary filler for Butler that never got any traction, league sources told The Athletic.”

Shams Charania, who also writes for The Athletic, had a slightly different take. He wrote that the Nets were “prepared” to talk about a deal for Butler early on in the process but were rebuffed, as were other clubs. In the discussions that led up to the Butler deal, the Nets didn’t appear to be players the way the Heat and ultimately the 76ers were.

In talking to reporters just before Monday’s game in Minnesota, Atkinson all but denied Scotto’s report.

And no matter, the coaching staff remains in rebuild mode.

“It’s a team focus. We’re on him,” Atkinson said who noted that DLo had “worked his tail off” in the summer. “As a staff, we all kind of think he [can score]. The offense is going to come for him. I just think he’s a talented offensive player, and that’ll just come. That comes naturally to him. The defense is [improving]. He’s shifting his focus there and it’s helping him.”