Narratives. They either make or break how a player is looked at in certain points in their career. Fans either jump on the bandwagon or give up on a player. Similarly, rookies are labeled either busts or stars with just 82 games under their belt. As unfair as it sounds, that is the reality for most players. Most of the narratives are false, but when being pushed by popular sites, casual fans’ opinions on player begin to change. Yet people who have seen that player grow throughout the season and have seen the glimpse into what appears to be a bright future know how truly special the player could become. This is how D’Angelo Russell’s career would be summed up if it ended today. People would remember all of the potential in his 6’5″ body but it would be associated with the national media mentioning the story that involved him and Nick Young. Why would the media care about a overblown scandal? Because it is the Lakers. Russell is a Laker and with that comes all of the cameras and non-stop media attention. No matter if you are 40 or 19, they will be waiting. D’Angelo Russell’s game and personality have both taken hits for 2 completely different reasons, both have come unfairly and both have been handled as good as they could have been within the situational parameters in place. This season has been set up for a real break through year for him to show that he is nothing like what the media has described him as.
Yet people still wonder who’s team is this going to be. Ingram doesn’t have the bad “rep” that Russell had has been crowned. Some of the analysts mention Russell in trade rumors and have Ingram as untouchable. That is how it will most likely be going forward. Ingram will have a much longer leash since he isn’t as outspoken and didn’t have to deal with Byron Scott. Yet like Kobe, if that is what he is going to have to be so that he is great, Russell will accept it. He is THAT DUDE. We often speak to the mamba mentality here in the Lakers community, and we see some of that rubbing off on the Ohio State product.
For better or worse, Kobe didn’t care what anyone else thought. He didn’t care you thought he needed Shaq. He didn’t care you thought he needed Phil. He could care less about taking a paycut for his last contract. He didn’t care if you were Dwight. He didn’t care that you thought Tim Duncan was better than him. He did and said what he wanted with no filter. He knew who and what he was and that was all that mattered. This is the Mamba mentality in a nutshell.
“I’m the best player in the draft”
As someone who wasn’t projected by anyone as the best player in the draft or going #1, it takes a lot of courage to say that. People call it cocky and for the most part it is. Cockiness is earned and the magical season he had at Ohio State, I think he deserves to call himself that. Even though it was a “2 players for the #1 pick”, Russell thought he deserves to be in that conversation as well.He didn’t go #1 and I’m sure that irks him to this day. Even if KAT is his best buddy and had a spectacular rookie year. It explains how frustrated D’Angelo was with the situation he was in and with himself. He doesn’t want to settle for second place. Something burns inside of him to be great. That much is clear. He has worked hard this year to prove his doubters wrong as he forecasted in his interview with Mike Trudell as transcibed by Harrison Faigen:
Yeah, right away. But that’s why I don’t get caught up in social media (critiques). Right now, I don’t really like doing interviews … because I know that once I get comfortable with my team, my coaches and all that, the same problems I was having months ago, people are going to be like, ‘Dang, he’s come a long way.’ Because everywhere I’ve been, I’ve struggled first, but then made (success happen). At first when I got to Montverde, I was playing behind Mike Frazier*, and I felt like I was better than him. He’s really good, but I had confidence, and after a while I was starting, and had blown up a little bit and people were looking to me like, ‘Lead us, man!’ and I was thinking, ‘I’m 15 years old!’ But my coach gave me the keys. Then I got to college, and struggled at the beginning of the year, but soon I got comfortable and took off. I never knew I’d be the No. 2 pick in the Draft, but it happened. Out here, I struggled in the beginning, started to find my way and it’s up and down. But this is a whole different level. You’re playing against grown men … vets. Playing against Hall of Fame coaches that take away everything you do well. This is a whole different animal. So I’d always rather be a late bloomer at anything I do. I don’t want to be great right away. I love the process. I love when people say, ‘You suck! You’re a bust!’ I love that. Because whether it’s months or years, whatever it takes, best believe they’ll be thinking about those words they said a while ago.
He knows what he is talking about and knows how he develops as a basketball player. He knows that he will be the best and that there is a process. Development takes longer for some players. KAT already has a polished skill set and will only get better from here. Others like Russell and Mudiay show flashes of what they will become, only to be underrated until they breakout. It isn’t anything new really but for casual fans, they get mad when they don’t see results from a hyped college player. Don’t forget they are hyped for a reason, scouts are the best at what they do for a reason. Whether Russell lives up to it or not is still to be seen but from the trends that have been set all signs point to him being a perennial All-Star for years to come.
With that being said, everything is now in place for Russell to take the reins of the team and lead them out of obscurity. This is it, most likely they will lose all first rounders in the near future so the young core is set. This is the hand Luke Walton is now dealt and it is up to him and coach Jesse to lead them into stardom.
The star of the future will be Russell. He has already embraced it from when he was in high school and is now showing it on the highest level. His leadership in Summer League is very assertive and aggressive which caught me by surprise. He was getting in people’s ears and pointing out what they did wrong with not much understanding of the system.
Russell isn’t yelling like Westbrook, he is what a point guard should be. He is the coach on the floor. He dictated the offense to perfection and with the idea that Luke wants. As much as a certain Lakers writers thinks he isn’t a point guard or playmaker, they couldn’t be any more wrong. I’d love to play with Russell. He can make any pass that he wants to make and will find you if you are open. Also he has the cool kid swagger that you just want to be around. A lot of the young players like him, some veterans don’t. This is how it works. There will be more haters than fans, then more fans than haters in a never ending seesaw.
Russell will be hated because he is a Laker. He is a future superstar and will be the leader of the team. This is unquestionably his team and where it goes will be steered where he leads them. He was born for this moment and he knows that. It took me 6:02 minutes (which is the length of a YouTube highlight reel) to be sold on D’Angelo Russell as the future of the Lakers, how long will it take you?
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