It’s been an eventful summer for the new face Los Angeles Lakers as they witnessed the departure of one of the greats in Kobe Bryant and embraced the rebuilding process that the Lakers religiously tried to avoid.
However, it never rains in Southern California and the Lakers’ seem to be primed for the next decade with extremely young and talented individuals such as recently drafted Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Anthony Brown, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac, D’angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson. And the team will be led by new head coach Luke Walton, who’s implementing a modern playset to complement the strengths of new leader, D’angelo Russell. That means the offense will revolve the young Russell as he is expected to take the reins of the Lakers.
Russell now has the pressure to carry the glorious franchise back to relevancy and compete for several titles down the line. This type of pressure only comes with being the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers. The same pressure was applied to players such as Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and, of course, Kobe Bryant. Russell is now in some serious company as everyone in that list is a Hall-of-Famer.
Russell has an even bigger challenge to face as he must match or surpass the golden era of Kobe Bryant, which saw him bring five championships to the Staple Center. The Black Mamba was Michael Jordan lite. He was a workhorse, a mastermind, a killer. He was an athletic, flashy scorer during his #8 days with Shaq then transformed into a methodical, unstoppable force during his #24 days where his turnaround fadeaway game was comparable to Jordan and his post game was better than most bigs. Although comparable to Michael Jordan, Kobe was one of a kind.
But after his horrific achilles injury in 2013 that striped Kobe of his athleticism and a shoulder injury that hindered his shooting ability, the Black Mamba turned to more of a mentor for the Laker pups.
Last season was a stressful one for 2nd overall pick D’angelo Russell as his growth was thrown aside for the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour. Halfway through, Byron Scott thought it would be a great idea to bench the growing tandem of D’Angelo and Julius Randle for whatever reason. Scott instituted an archaic system featuring an offense that doesn’t feature any pick and rolls, the bread and butter of any point guard in the league.
But when Russell had his opportunity to shine, he shined bright. He flashed the potential of being the next Laker great. That’s all Laker fans need to see.
Now the Lakers will look to the young Russell for leadership. New coach, Luke Walton, believes in Russell.
“He’s ready to take the steps forward in this league toward becoming a leader, becoming a top point guard and competing every single night,” Walton told Mark Medina in the L.A. Daily News. “There’s a lot of growth to be had still. But he showed me he wants three things. He wants to be great. He wants to win. And he wants to lead. That’s what I want out of a point guard.”
Luke Walton is the perfect coach for this team and especially for D’Angelo. The chains that were holding Russell back last season are now gone and he is about to take control of the team. His offseason work has shown to help improve his play dramatically as he dominated summer league averaging 21.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Although it’s only summer league and he’s going up against mediocre talent compared to what he’s going to face in the Western Conference, Russell looked stronger, faster, and more explosive.
After that type of performance, the whole entire Lakers fandom are expecting a breakout season for the young Russell. However, D’Angelo may not be able to match the stats he put up at Ohio State, but he could average a cool 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, which wouldn’t necessarily be a breakout, but still shows massive improvement from last season.
Laker fans don’t want to sit through a long rebuild and want to win now. That’s just how they are. D’Angelo Russell is somehow supposed to bring them to the promised land in his 2nd season or else he is viewed as a bust. He’s supposed to be the next Kobe Bryant and win an infinite number of championships. Oh well. The pressure of being a Laker.
But it’s a new day in LA and D’Angelo is ready to take over.