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Minnesota Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell said being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers while the organization was trying to make one more playoff push before Kobe Bryant retired didn’t provide the right learning environment for him to flourish.
“I didn’t know how to be a professional and the guidance wasn’t there also,” he 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.”
Ohio head coach Jeff Boals, an assistant coach at Ohio State during Russell’s season with the Buckeyes, agreed it wasn’t the ideal situation for a young player, per Krawczynski.
“It was unfair to him,” Boals said. “He was the No. 2 pick headed to L.A. in Kobe’s swan song year. You’re playing for a coach in Byron Scott who really doesn’t like rookies to begin with. You’ve got Kobe in his final year and everything revolves around him.”
The Lakers failed to make that charge during Bryant’s final year. They posted a 17-65 record during the 2015-16 season.
In December, Russell explained to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater he failed to pick up most of the advice Bryant, who died in a January helicopter crash, was trying pass down to him:
“Looking back on it, he dropped so many jewels on me that I didn’t even hear because I was not there mentally. I remember one time we were in Houston and I went to his room with his security guard. Kobe comes in and says, ‘You know, when you go on these road trips, you want to have fun, you want to turn up, you want to do all that in these cities.’ But he said, ‘I gained an edge by taking meetings on these road trips, business meetings. What can I do to establish my brand, figure out what I like to do, advance my life after basketball?'”
Russell has embarked on a nomadic start to his career with stops as a member of the Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors and now the Wolves.
Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns, a close friend of the point guard, said he’s kept in contact with him often over the years, per Krawczynski.
“A lot of checkups, a lot of nights just helping him get through everything he went through,” Towns said. “I just think that there was a lot of conversations that weren’t comfortable that we had. A lot of times you just gotta be a brother and tell him what it is.”
Now Russell is hoping he’s finally found a long-term home with the Timberwolves where he can finish the development that got off to a sluggish start with the Lakers.
“For me to come here, this feels more at home to me, like I could settle down, raise my family and unpack my bags,” he told The Athletic.
Russell was off to a strong start in Minnesota, averaging 21.7 points, 6.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 threes through 12 appearances before the 2019-20 season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.