D’Angelo Russell says Magic Johnson’s comments about him “ruffled a few feathers”

Associated Press

“D’Angelo is an excellent player. He has the talent to be an All-Star,. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody that also can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”

That was Magic Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations, explaining why he traded former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell, along with Timofey Mozgov, to Brooklyn, then drafted Lonzo Ball.

As you might imagine, that didn’t sit well with Russell, as he explained to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“I would say it ruffled a few feathers,” Russell said before the Nets fell 124-112 to the Lakers on Friday in their first meeting since the summer trade. “But you control what you can control. He’s in a position to say what he wants, so I just try to do what I can do at the end of the day.”

That’s was handled well by Russell (who had to know the question was coming). The better answer was outdueling ball on the night — Russell had 17 points (but on 24 shots) and 7 assists, while Ball had 6 points on 15 shots, also with seven assists. Neither point guard was terribly impressive on the night.

In Brooklyn, Russell has the ball in his hands more and with that is having the best season of his young career, averaging 21.1 points and 5.3 assists per game, with a true shooting percentage of 52.9 (right at the league average).

However, Magic was right — Russell was anything but a leader in Los Angeles. He was notoriously late for meetings, not known as a guy who put in extra work, and was difficult for coaches and fellow teammates to deal with. Maybe that will change with maturity and the wake-up call of a trade, but Russell was not doing the things a leader does while a Laker.

Ball is a guy that brings an energy to the position that other players want to connect with — bigs run the floor to be rewarded, guys are willing to move off the ball, the team’s passing is infectious, and Ball is not his father and remains fairly quiet through it all. Lonzo also has a lot of work to do on his game (as a scorer, and on defense) but he brings an energy to the position the Lakers needed. How much he can build on that and how good he can become remain to be seen.

Magic and the Lakers made the right move, and it may well have been the best move for Russell, too.