Nets fans know D’Angelo Russell best for his role as their quiet leader, their team’s best player, an NBA All-Star and someone who is having - arguably - the best season in Brooklyn Nets history.
In a sit-down with Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report, however, Nets fans got to see another side of Russell - or, more, the only side of D-Lo they’ve known, and the one that Magic Johnson completely whiffed on.
Sepkowitz got Russell to “open up” - who’s often quiet and humble - as best he could on the situation in Los Angeles; one in which Johnson openly noted that Russell lacked leadership and the ability to make his teammates better basketball players.
Russell, not yet 22 years old, was traded to the Nets in the summer of 2017, mostly because he purportedly lacked leadership and the Lakers did lack a vision. Meanwhile, Russell, today, is an All-Star on a possibly playoff-bound team and the Lakers sit on the outside of the playoffs looking in, with a roster full of assets and, still, no identity.
“I’ve been through it, and people were kind of begging me for a response—they want me to respond to what [Magic] said, they want me to speak on everything that I’ve been through in my career, and it’s like, Nah.” Russell is naturally laid-back and thoughtful. (“It’s so easy because it’s who I am,” he says.) The drama and spotlight of Hollywood made for an awkward fit; Brooklyn is more his speed. Russell likens the Nets’ environment to a close-knit college type, and to what the Spurs have built—steady and concerned with players’ well-being. (General manager Sean Marks spent three years in San Antonio as a player and four more working for the franchise.)
Russell also received high praise from his current coach, Kenny Atkinson, who didn’t quite see what Magic Johnson saw - not then, and certainly not now.
Atkinson admired Russell’s open-mindedness. “He didn’t come in with airs about him, an ego, he didn’t want any special treatment,” he says. “There was never a comment to me like, ‘I should be the starting point guard.’ I do think we sent a message, like, You’re gonna have to earn this. There was never a handing of the baton, like: This is your deal, or you’re the guy, or we’re gonna put you on billboards. No. You have the earn this. I think he embraced that message, and he did have to earn it.”
Sepkowitz also talked to Russell’s teammates, re: his leadership both on the off the court, his relationship with his teammates, a phone call with... LeBron James... this summer, and the ice that runs through his veins.
It’s a very good read, especially for Nets fans who finally have a franchise player worth rooting for on their hands.
- D’Angelo Russell is Breaking Free - Leo Sepkowitz - Bleacher Report