D’Angelo Russell has had maturity issues all season long. He has had his moments with Byron Scott. He has had his Twitter beef with Lakers fans who want him to be something he is not, a hybrid Kobe/Magic NBA wonder child. What Russell is at the end of his rookie year is a mixed bag of talent, shooting, bad defense, casualness, silliness, immaturity and entitlement. He’s 20 years old. He was 19 years old when he took the bejeweled crown the Lakers handed him and forgot one small thing: dude, you have to earn it. But this new Russell story is more complicated then all the other Russell stories put together because, according to Baxter Holmes and Marc Stein of ESPN, it has bust the Lakers unity door into shreds. In a coordinated act of solidarity, no one on the team is talking to D’Angelo Russell. Holmes and Stein cited an incident in which no one sat with Russell at a breakfast meeting and Lou Williams is so pissed off that when Russell sat next to him in the locker room, he walked away.
There’s no way to get inside D’Angelo’s head. When he spoke to the media before the Heat game he said all the right things. He said he was “sick” about what happened. He said he wished he could take it back. He said he was sorry. He was sketchy on his Nick Young apology. Did he apologize and Nick Young walked away. Or has he not been able to apologize because, frankly, Nick Young has bigger issues. In any case, D’Angelo has to answer for his own adolescent behavior which he claims was not a prank. Very few believe he acted with malice. But his motivations are irrelevant. When you dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, it comes down to this: he committed a locker room crime that triggered a nerve among professional athletes. A hotel room is a sacred space. Behavior on the road is private. You don’t go there, even for amusement.
The damage has yet to blow over. Collectively, it has infected the small community of brothers that comprise this young mismatched Lakers team. It’s the reason behind their weak showing in Utah. Russell’s “prank” roiled through the locker room with a line down the middle. Russell on one side, everyone else on the other.
According to ESPN, D’Angelo was talking to Nick Young in a hotel room, asking him some very personal questions about women he had contact with and Young, not suspecting he was being videotaped, answered the questions candidly while chilling on the couch, watching t.v. Why would he be suspicious? Russell was a teammate. Teammates protect one another. So Young revealed information that was best left private considering Young is engaged to Iggy Azalea. Somehow the video showed up online on a celebrity gossip site and Russell is being blamed. It was his phone. It was his video. It was his voice asking the questions. But he is going with the I have no idea how it got online. I didn’t do it.
That took an already fragile locker room into a hell freezes over before we trust you again locker room. There’s a certain irony that it was Nick Young that Russell betrayed. Young is the happy go lucky, not very serious about my NBA career teammate. Happiness is his calling card. And trust. But Russell played him. He set him up. It was premeditated and the worst part was Russell had no second thoughts about using Young in this video for something down the line. It may not have been online humiliation that would lead to trouble at home. But he did it for a reason. That reason has struck a nerve with people and is one more reminder that Russell often acts like a high-school boy in a man’s world. It thrust the Lakers into chaos. The problem is a pretty basic one from a basketball point of view. Russell is the point guard. He is distributing the ball. This cold freeze has no other consequence but to create more chaos and tension.
Byron Scott refused to talk about it at shoot-around, saying it was an internal matter that was being handled appropriately. Truthfully, this is not a new story. The video upload was last week. But the ramifications of it are just settling in, like a continually annoying dripping faucet. Across the sports landscape, Russell’s reputation is taking a beating. Repeatedly, he was booed in the first half of the game against Miami.
Usually in cases like this, there is a lot of hysteria but not much concrete evidence of what next.
Should Russell be trusted again? Should the Lakers pull a trade for Jahlil Okafor, who the 76ers want to move, and cut their ties with Russell, not because of this incident primarily, but that it frames the entire D’Angelo Russell story? Will Russell’s presence inhibit the Lakers on the free agent market? Russell isn’t good enough yet for his talent to overwhelm his mistakes, for him to be blanketly forgiven. And there is that February quote where Byron Scott said that sometimes Russell acts like he’s 14. The best thing for Russell, even as he fights growing up, is for him to be accountable and for the Lakers not to fix it.
Two weeks to the day before Kobe Bryant’s last game, it’s surreal. On the one hand you have the Lakers franchise leader leaving the game for good, a player applauded because of his intensity and commitment and toughness. And on the other hand you have a kid who has exhibited through his attitude, play and demeanor he is not quite ready for the ups and down of the NBA. Often, he doesn’t understand he is a paid professional and he has to act like one. College is in the past. But then again, there is something very Dwight Howard-esque about it, Russell so invested in his pranks.
Sources have said the Lakers are not going to intervene but they are disappointed. Of course they are. They sold Russell as a Magic Johnson prototype. The Lakers are always one step behind the curve. What happens next?
The locker room has its own set of judges and prosecutors and penalties. They are in control now.
photo via llananba