For all of you wanting to jettison D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers – and from the NBA in general – for his ill-advised social-media activity, Adrian Wojnarowski has two words for you:
“Listen, I’m not one of these people who believes that his career has somehow been imperiled by this,” the Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “He just turned 20 years old. Listen, if this sporting culture tells you anything, the mob will be on to somebody else next week. If D’Angelo Russell continued to work at this, to take this job seriously, to get better as a player, he’s going to be fine. If he doesn’t do those things, then he’s going to be in trouble. But it won’t be over this. I think that locker room is going to turn over. There will be new players in there. He’s going to have his opportunity to lead the Lakers and to prove himself. I just don’t buy the idea that he’s somehow going to be a castoff in NBA circles for the foreseeable future.”
In other words, Nick Young can allegedly cheat on Iggy Azalea all he wants. If Russell, who turned 20 in February, can become a quality player, the Lakers will hold on to him.
“They invested a lot in him, selecting him second over Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis,” Wojnarowski said. “There’s been no trade talk with him. They have not talked to teams about moving him. As far as I know, I haven’t talked to one executive in the league who told me that L.A. was open. Listen, you can offer anything to somebody and they could listen. That doesn’t mean he’s available.”
Russell is averaging 13.2 points, 3.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this season.
“You saw him improve as the year went on,” Wojnarowski said. “They knew he would struggle this year. Everyone knew (he would struggle). Nineteen years old at the point guard position in the NBA – this is the Golden Age of point guards in pro basketball. Just go up and down the Eastern and Western conference. There are Hall of Fame point guards, there are really good point guards. That is a position that, at that age, (can demoralize you).”
Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry – the list goes on.
“That’s a tough thing to walk into,” Wojnarowski said. “He went through that this year and I think it was expected – or should have been expected – and started to improve as the year went on. . . . It’s dangerous to make judgments too quickly on players in the NBA. Guys develop at different rates. I don’t think anybody’s come close to feeling in L.A. like he’s a disappointment. Did he have maturity issues? Yes. Did he need to grow up? Yes. And maybe this episode . . . could be a catalyst to maybe remind him how precious and how fragile this stuff can be.”
In the East, meanwhile, the Cavs (52-22) still have a two-game lead over the Raptors (50-24) in the race for the 1-seed, but all is not well in Cleveland.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion on that team,” Wojnarowski said. “I think there’s a lack of trust within that group, about agendas, about who’s got whose back, about (whether) guys (are) there for each other. I was talking to an Eastern Conference coach the other day who will be in the playoffs and he said, ‘Listen, forget all this. If LeBron decides it’s time to play in the playoffs, they’re going to beat all of us.’ With that being said, that’s not going to be enough to win a championship, which is the goal there.”
After showing up David Blatt, James seems to be doing the same with Tyronn Lue, which sets a bad example for a team that is still relatively young.
“They need to be led in the right way, and I don’t know that he’s done a great job of leading that team this year,” Wojnarowski said. “But again, he’ll be judged on the playoffs. He’ll be judged on the postseason. They are super-talented and maybe they’ll flip the switch and they’ll steamroll everybody in the East. It’s still likely.”