D’Angelo Russell’s maturity speaks volumes for Lakers future


Most of us will never understand what it is like to be a teenager thrust into the spotlight of being an NBA star. Unfortunately, D’Angelo Russell is one of those players who had to carry that burden and didn’t do a great job as a Los Angeles Lakers rookie, which isn’t an easy situation to slip into as a young player trying to make a name for themselves in the league.

Personally, I got to see Russell’s maturation process… Unfortunately, it was only the beginning period, which was rough, to say the least.

When the Lakers drafted Russell second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, few argued with the decision for the storied franchise to bring in the talented guard out of Ohio State.

In retrospect, the team might have gone with Devin Booker (No. 15) or traded up to snag Karl-Anthony Towns, who went to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 1. But Magic Johnson and company seemed set on Russell. The former Buckeye’s talent was glaring, especially to someone like Magic, who likely saw this guard’s ability to see the floor like no other on the board.

Unfortunately, despite seeming to make the right move, even though going with Booker might have been the ideal successor for Kobe Bryant, Russell struggled in his short time with the Lakers. That stint was ultimately marred by a nasty scandal involving then-teammate Nick Young along with injuries.

Russell was one of the few young draft picks that I can remember being an obvious problem in the locker room during my time covering the team. I remember one time in particular when the team had lost yet another game, and we went back into the locker room as usual and stuck a microphone in the faces of numerous young players and Kobe Bryant.

Russell was among the last we talked to, and he seemed aloof and just didn’t appear to care about the situation as he tried cracking jokes aloud, and I shit you not, no one, including his teammates and the media, made a sound. It was a pin-drop moment, and I realized this kid wouldn’t be here long. It was cringeworthy, to say the least.

Ultimately, and no one connected to the team is surprised that Russell was traded…

Fast forward to March of 2023, Russell is a different player and human being. The former first-round pick is calm, cool and collected. But perhaps the most impressive part of his second stint with the Lakers is that he’s inspirational.

“He’s a really good basketball player that plays the game the right way,” Austin Reaves said of D’Angelo Russell. “You don’t really see him too many times in the midst of a game making a wild play. He’s very under control, plays at his own pace, and like I said, he’s just super talented.”

Russell has gone from a locker-room outcast to an inspirational figure that can help this current squad reach the goals its trying to accomplish in the final stretch of the NBA regular season.

Personally, I was the first to say that trading for Russell was a bad move and just another indication of problems in the team’s front office. However, I can honestly say, I was wrong about this assessment, as Russell has taken giant leaps forward in his maturity and desire to be a significant part of a winning basketball team.

The Ohio State product may be lacking in the speed department and is far from a lockdown defender, but his desire to be a winner and inspirational figure in Los Angeles is undeniable in his second go-around with the Lakers.

Maturity is something that develops over time. Some embrace it, as Russell has mentioned frequently, and others push it to the side like it’s some kind of disease they don’t want to contract.

Fortunately for the Lakers, Russell only wants to improve both on and off the court, and so far, it has been a resounding success outside of his ankle injury. The 27-year-old has done his best to earn the respect of Lakers Nation, and in his short time since being traded back to the storied franchise, he’s done an incredible job of earning that respect while also knowing the impact that Lakers fans have on home games at Arena.

“The fans are ready to explode at a certain point in the game,” Russell said of Lakers fans. “It could be the start of the game, then it dies down a little bit, but in that third quarter, that fourth quarter, they’re ready. I know that. I just wanted to bring that energy and kinda give them that.”

Unlike in his first stint with the Lakers, Russell has embraced the avid Lakers fanbase and clearly looks forward to every chance that he can get to hype up the crowd at Crpyto.

“I want to be the guy that’s hyping up the crowd and letting them feel that more because it’s huge for us,” Russell said. “I couldn’t help but smile.”

Despite the fact this Lakers team is one game under .500, with LeBron James on the mend, the team is firing on all cylinders with Russell, Davis and company ready to make some noise in the second half of the NBA regular season. A playoff spot for the Lakers is not beyond the realm of possibility for this new-look squad in Los Angeles.

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