D'Angelo Russell has a unique place in NBA history: young star journeyman.
The Lakers drafted Russell No. 2 overall in 2015. After alienating his teammates in Los Angeles, Russell got traded to Brooklyn. He developed into an All-Star with the Nets, but they moved on to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So, Russell joined the Warriors last summer in a double sign-and-trade for Durant, becoming the youngest established All-Star to change teams via free agency. Russell already got moved again, getting dealt to the Timberwolves just before the trade deadline.
Russell is only player ever to play for four different teams and become an All-Star all before turning 24.
Nobody else has played for even three different teams and become an All-Star before turning 24.
Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic took a deep dive into Russell’s journey. I recommend reading it in full. The story includes Russell reflecting on each of his stops.
Russell on the Lakers:
“I didn’t know how to be a professional and the guidance wasn’t there also,” Russell said. “I don’t blame anybody. I blame myself. It was really a blur to me, just in the sense that the things that I’ve been through ever since then.”
A completely fair assessment.
The Lakers were focused on Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour. Young players like Russell got put on the backburner. Russell’s relationship with Lakers coach Byron Scott was mutually unproductive.
But nobody is responsible for D’Angelo Russell like D’Angelo Russell. It would’ve been nice if the Lakers better mentored him. Ultimately, though, it falls on him.
Which leads to Brooklyn, where Russell improved under then-coach Kenny Atkinson’s watch.
Russell on the Nets:
“I’m not going to give it to Kenny,” he said. “I still don’t think he knew what he had, honestly. I don’t think he knew what I was capable of in the fourth quarter.”
If Russell gets the blame for his stumbles, he should also get the acclaim for his success. People assign too much credit to the coach. Though Brooklyn’s player-development system helped, the player is most central to his own growth.
Russell on the Warriors:
“I remember going through the process and I was like, ‘If I go to Minnesota, I play with Karl and all the guys who will be there. I could potentially settle down and relax and unpack my bags,” Russell said. “But there’s something telling me you gotta go get every bit of money you’re worth right now.”
There’s always valuing in securing financial security. That looks particularly prescient now.
Russell on the Timberwolves:
“I’m like, OK,” he said, “this is where I’m supposed to be.”
I still have questions about Russell’s and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ fit together. Though the friends have long wanted to play together and each have plenty of talent, neither has shown the necessary commitment to the finer points of winning basketball.
Of course, there’s still time to learn. After all – despite all he has been through and all the perspective he shows throughout Krawczynski’s article – Russell is still just 24.