Antonio Russell, D’Angelo’s dad, remembers the aftermath of the Lakers decision to not only trade him, but unceremoniously dump on him as he exited. As Greg Logan writes Saturday, it could be boiled down to “immature, not a leader, doesn’t make his teammates better.”
Was it criticism ... or advice?
“D’Angelo and I had the conversation,” said Antonio. “I said, ‘You’ve got to understand this is Magic Johnson. We’re speaking of a basketball icon, a Hall of Famer saying you might not be elite. You need to take that as a lesson.’
“I could have said, ‘Magic shouldn’t have said it,’ but it was, don’t take it as a negative. Take it as a Hall of Famer giving him some constructive criticism. That’s exactly how we took it.”
“Turning a negative into a positive” is apparently a Russell family slogan. They also have a code for Johnson’s criticism: “The Magic Words.”
Russell, then barely 21, was ready. He wanted to fly from L.A. to Brooklyn immediately after the trade. Sean Marks had to tell him to take his time. And despite some setbacks here and there, including knee surgery, Russell is becoming (or maybe exceeding) what the Nets expected when they took him on.
“I looked at it like where Steve Nash took his career when he left Dallas, how Chauncey Billups got drafted to Boston and made something in Detroit],” Russell told Logan. “I looked at it as a better opportunity, not a rejection or anything.
“My confidence is slowly rising every game,” Russell said. “With us having injuries, it forces me to look in the mirror and reflect on who I can be in this league. I have the confidence to be that person, to be one of the top elite guards. I want to be in that category.”
His dad says the Nets provided structure that he craved. After his career with Monteverde Academy, Ohio State and AAU ball, he arrived in La-La Land at 19 years old, there to celebrate Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour and whatever else was going on.
Something else, too...
“Once he understands that you’re for him and you’re pushing him because you see the potential in him and it’s for the right reason, he’s all in for it,” the elder Russell said. “It’s all about the process. He understands about building the foundation.”
Whatever reputation DLo left behind in L.A., whatever Magic Johnson may have said about him, he had a blank space with Kenny Atkinson. There’d be no star treatment, just work and corrective measures when needed. After Atkinson pulled him a couple of times, one would have thought, based on his reputation, DLo would complain.
“Never. Never, never. Not one single time,” Atkinson told Logan. “He took it because I think he knew he hadn’t arrived yet. That’s also buying into the team philosophy.”
Now, with his All-Star nod, the team’s success and his rising reputation and image, he’s, if not “arrived,” arriving.
He and Antonio give a lot of credit to the Nets ... both in the Logan interview and the interviews DLo is giving in Charlotte. “Lot of buzz about Brooklyn,” he said in one interview Saturday.
“Kenny does a great job of making it make sense,” the younger Russell said. “He puts it in a context where you can really see it statistically with the numbers and with your play. It gives you the confidence to take those shots.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better situation.” said the elder Russell. “I guess the best thing is knowing what this is doing for his confidence, for his self-esteem, his mentality. It makes me happy because I see the joy in him.”
- D’Angelo Russell has blossomed with the Nets - Greg Logan - Newsday
- D’Angelo Russell Is Poetry on the Court. Take It From a Poet - Kelly Whiteside - New York Times
- ‘Clean slate’: The Kenny Atkinson relationship that’s behind D’Angelo Russell’s All-Star comeback story - Michael Scotto - The Athletic New York
- NETS AT THE 2019 RISING STARS CHALLENGE - Brooklyn Nets
- DINWIDDIE AND ALLEN JOIN THE JUMP (Video) - Brooklyn Nets
- NBA ALL-STAR GAME: D’ANGELO RUSSELL - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets