Maybe not so off- the- wall, after all
Lakers’ selection of Russell shook up the NBA; now he looks to do same with his play.
Sometime between showing up for his first workout and finishing his second one for the Lakers, D’Angelo Russell had a chat with Mitch Kupchak.
The Lakers general manager pointed to the walls at the team training facility in El Segundo. His targets were obvious — the large jersey cutouts on the walls. The retired players who made a difference in Lakers history.
The symbolism might have been syrupy to a cynic. Not to Russell, a one- anddone player at Ohio State looking to make his mark on a 67- year old franchise a long way from his hometown of Louisville.
“There’s so many names you can name- drop from the Lakers. To be one of those guys that could be in that category, his words really hit me,” Russell said during a quiet moment after the Lakers made him the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. “You name the Lakers on the wall, you’re basically
naming the top guys in this world that ever played this game.”
The Lakers picked Russell over the safer choice, Duke center Jahlil Okafor. It was a toss- up to the end. Fans at Barclays Center even started chuckling when the Lakers ran out of time on the f ive- minute clock for their first- round pick. It was only the second selection of the night. Already a delay?
Russell and his table of six weren’t laughing.
“Man, that was a beating for me,” he said, the agonizing wait finally ending when his agent, Aaron Mintz, got the phone call revealing the Lakers’ choice. “The cameras started running my way. [ NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver came to the stage. My dad looked into my eyes and said, ‘ You thought you were built for this. What are you shaking for?’
“Before I could even answer, Adam Silver started announcing and my dad just started tearing up. My brothers were making noises and little remarks. I couldn’t stop from tearing up a little bit.”
Most Lakers officials picture Russell in the backcourt next to Jordan Clarkson, both players equally comfortable with scoring or passing, keys to any guard tandem in the NBA minitrend toward a position- less offense.
The Lakers could immediately shift the aging Kobe Bryant to small forward and let the future begin Sept. 29, the day of their first training- camp practice in Honolulu.
Clarkson came on strong last season as the Lakers’ starting point guard, averaging 15.8 points, five assists and 4.2 rebounds in 38 games. He was a rookie but, because he was a secondround pick, would be going into a contract year in 201516.
If anybody had a problem with the Lakers’ selecting a point guard, it would be Clarkson.
No chance. Not his nature to be envious. Or threatened.
In fact, he said, he was napping when the Lakers made the pick.
“I woke up and saw all the phone calls. It was cool, though,” Clarkson told The Times. “I’m trying to win games. You can’t win games without talented players and guys around you. I’m definitely looking forward to next year.” How so? “A backcourt with D’Angelo and me in it, I think we’re very versatile. We both can score the ball,” Clarkson said. “He passes the ball probably a little better than me. He has great court vision. We’re both big.”
Indeed, they’re each 6 feet 5. And quick.
For what it was worth, New York Knicks President Phil Jackson said the Lakers probably passed on Okafor because they “took out the tape measure,” a reference to Okafor’s being less tall than his 6- foot- 11 listing at Duke.
Jackson added that the Lakers “made a f ine choice” by selecting Russell.
After a long day in New York, including two hours of media obligations mainly with people he had never met, Russell was still smiling.
“L. A. is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Just to get the opportunity to play for this beautiful franchise is a blessing,” he said.
Nance’s deleted tweet
Larry Nance Jr. took to Twitter soon after being drafted 27th overall by the Lakers. It wasn’t merely to give an obligatory shout- out to fans — it was to remove an inf lammatory tweet about a new teammate.
Shortly after the Wyoming forward’s name was announced as the newest Laker, a Nance tweet from three years ago regarding Bryant started making the rounds on social media.
The tweet referred to Bryant’s past legal trouble in Colorado and was deleted late Thursday night.
“Gee I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time,” the tweet said, accompanied by the hashtag “rapist.”
Bryant was arrested in July 2003 on suspicion of sexual assault in Eagle, Colo. Criminal charges were dropped and he settled a civil lawsuit.
Kupchak said he was unaware of the tweet until after drafting Nance.
“I’ve spoken to Larry Nance Jr., and I’m not in a position to really share information, but it is something that [ Nance and Bryant] will have to discuss amongst the two of them,” Kupchak said. “My understanding, it’s something that happened years ago, and in today’s world, things don’t go away, which doesn’t make it any less offensive because it was said three or four years ago.”
Bryant is on vacation in Costa Rica this week.
Nance has battled back from a torn knee ligament and lives with Crohn’s disease. He was also drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters earlier this week. His father played in the NBA for 13 years, winning the league’s f irst slam dunk contest in 1984.
SAY THIS for D’Angelo Russell, he doesn’t lack ambition. He aims high ... like, retired- jersey level.
LAKERS DRAFT CHOICE Larry Nance Jr. might have some explaining to do to new teammate Kobe Bryant regarding a 3- year- old tweet.