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D’Angelo Russell: In a good place mentally, physically ... and geographically

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Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

D’Angelo Russell embraced Brooklyn from the first time he and Sean Marks first talked after the 2017 trade that brought him to the Nets. Marks recalled that DLo was so excited about the move he offered to get on a plane immediately and head across the country.

Since then, he’s told Mark J. Spears that he wants Brooklyn, not L.A., to be his “legacy” and Brian Lewis “I plan on being here for life.” He is, to use a tired phrase that has the added benefit of being true, all-in.

And now, as his teammates begin to gather for next week’s workouts and in some cases, introductions, Russell tells Mike Scotto, “I’m in the greatest place ever, honestly.” Russell spoke to The Athletic earlier this week at the launch of NBA2K19, out September 11.

“I wake up every morning and go to train, and I feel like I’m in the best shape. I don’t know. The sky is the limit,” he said, adding that the sky is the limit for the Brooklyn Nets as well. Russell’s made a big commitment to getting stronger, more explosive this summer to ward off injuries, what some on the Nets performance team call “prehab.”

His coach has noticed.

“I see more of a commitment to his body, more of an understanding of our culture and I think it’s almost like we kind of brought him to private school, and it’s a little more where he thrived at Ohio State,” Atkinson said with a laugh.

“Kind of like a college system, regimented system. I think we’ve been good for each other in terms of he’s got a great imagination, a really good IQ about the game. But all the little things you have to do in this league to be a consistent player in the NBA, I think he’s maturing and learning.”

Moreover, as Scotto notes, Russell seems happy and optimistic as well.

“I just feel like with us trusting that guys have gotten better over the summer, and I’ve seen that clearly in our guys,” Russell said. “I’ve seen guys get better and we brought in a few other guys to help. I think those games that we lose at the end of the year, last year, we win those games and those games that we win by five and should’ve won by 15, I think we’re hungrier as a group, and we’ll manage that.”

And he notes, echoing a lot of what Nets fans feel, Sean Marks is a “genius.”

At the same event, DLo told Chris Milholen of FanSided he believes he can lead this group, not just as a lead guard, a phrase he seems to prefer over point guard.

“I think so. I know the opportunity is right there. With veteran guys like that speaking out about it that just shows its up for me. I’m ready to attack that role.”

The Nets know they need the player Atkinson says has “elite court vision ... not average vision, not good vision, elite vision,” but also the man, the leader who can turn things around. There is plenty of incentive including Russell’s first big contract come July. He says that’s not his primary motivation.

“I just want to play, to be honest,” he said. “That’s really been my main focus. Staying healthy and finishing the season on a positive note. As a team, there’s a lot that we can really work on. Those have really been outweighing my thoughts on an extension and all of that.”

And we want to watch!