Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell has already begun to forge a strong relationship with his new head coach Luke Walton, something that must be invigorating for the second-year guard from Ohio State after clashing with former head man Byron Scott for a bevy of reasons last season.
“He’s one of the best people I know, as far as off the court,” Russell said of his new head coach on Wednesday. “We communicate on and off the court as much as possible. I feel like I can call him anytime. He’s not like a head coach that will sit back and just watch his other coaches and colleagues just train other players, he’s always involved.
He’ll get out there and play with you if he wants. It’s just great to have a young coach like him in the building.”
I deduce that this is veiled shot at Scott, who believed in the administering of tough love in order to nurture his young-guns. After being axed by Los Angeles, Scott referred to Russell and some of his peers within the Association as entitled, and admitted that he may have at times went over the top with his berating of Russell to “pull him back down to earth.”
Between the Nick Young fiasco and the strife between he and Scott, Russell’s first NBA season was a wayward one. At times he was given the keys to the offense, just to be stripped of them when he made a mistake, like a parent when their kid comes in after curfew.
He was a starter then banished to the bench, only to be promoted when Scott elected to finally let the pups loose from the litter.
With Russell and Walton there’s a much better correspondence, and it’s apparent that the two are getting along very well with each other, with Walton lauding Russell for his leadership ability and work ethic earlier this summer.
“In summer league I spent the majority of my time with the young guys here, and D’Angelo has been phenomenal as far as being vocal in practice, and doing what we ask him as a coaching staff, and coming in early and after practice and getting work in. So right now he’s shown that he’s capable of being a leader and that he’s working on becoming a leader.”
“He’s been a leader, he’s been talking in practice and trying to constantly pick the coaches brains about what we see.
“He’s in the gym every morning before we even got to Summer League working out, then coming back at night and working out. His work ethic and his desire to play the way we want him to play, and his competitive nature have been incredible.”
For the Lakers it’s encouraging to see Russell, a guy who could become Los Angeles’ superstar successor to the much revered Kobe Bryant, voice such contentment with his coach. They appear to have the upmost of confidence in each other, which will only translate to a better product on the court.
Russell won’t have to worry about getting yanked when he screws up, and they’ll be able to comfortably discuss on-court tactics and other schematics to help the Lakers’ core grow accordingly, something that the second-year guard wasn’t able to do last season with Scott.
And what may be most salient in the case of Russell is that he now has a long-term mentor in Walton, one who is battle-tested and has won championships as both player and coach, the former rings coming with the team he’s currently coaching.
I’m sure Bryant’s one-year stint as sage will prove to be invaluable for Russell, but with Walton, Russell has someone he can confide in and speak to about not only the ups-and-downs of the NBA season but life as well on a constant basis. During the season no one will be more accessible to Russell than Walton, and it seems as if he plans to use that resource with some consistency.
In the case of the Young ordeal, I bet Russell would’ve rather had Walton to divulge to as opposed to Scott, who would’ve more than likely scolded him in a fashion Walton would not.
There just seems to be better vibes with this Lakers team, something that had been absent the last several campaigns. We saw jubilation during Bryant’s last game, but anything positive eeking out of Laker Land had been a rarity since the Dwightmare left L.A.
It’s as if a thick cloud of black smog had encapsulated the Staples Center the last two years, but the presence of Walton caused it’s evaporation, and now a beacon of playoff lighting shines in the distance.
D’Angelo Russell praising Luke Walton is great, and as a prospective leader of the team, encourages his cohorts Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle to make an effort to establish a bond similar to the one he and his new head coach already share.