NEW YORK — Ready to start fresh in Brooklyn, D’Angelo Russell said Magic Johnson’s criticism of his leadership skills is “irrelevant.”
“It is good to be here,” Russell said at the Nets practice facility in Brooklyn. “Can’t really control that, what they say, I’m gone. So it’s the past. I am here now. It’s irrelevant, honestly.”
During his introductory news conference with the Brooklyn Nets, Russell repeatedly tried to turn the page from the Los Angeles Lakers to his new home. But surely, Russell will hear about what Johnson said plenty more this coming season.
“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” the Lakers president of basketball operations said on Friday when the team introduced second overall pick Lonzo Ball. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us.
“But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
Russell, 21, has certainly heard the knock on his maturity since being drafted second overall out of Ohio State in 2015. But Russell said he plans on being a leader for the young rebuilding Nets.
“Wherever they put me, I am going to take advantage of it to the fullest and that’s me being the leader right away,” Russell said when asked if he sees an opportunity to be a leader in Brooklyn. “I am looking forward to the challenge. You saying my leadership is being questioned, this is an opportunity to make the best out of it.”
The Nets know they have a challenge ahead of them of getting the most out of Russell. But they are banking on head coach Kenny Atkinson, highly touted for his developmental skills, on being able to develop Russell and his potential. And the Nets, who have lost 62 and 61 games in each of the past two seasons, are hoping that a fresh start for Russell will bring his best out.
“Really I’m not worried about that,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said about Johnson’s comments. “I think everybody’s going to question what happened in the past with the whole Nick Young [episode] and so forth; but as I said before, I’m not really concerned about that, because I think if any one of us looked in our little dark secret closets, there would be things we’d be embarrassed about that we wish we could take back. So again I’m going to bet on this group from Kenny, the coaching staff, they’ve done a terrific, terrific job this year of developing these guys.”
“I think he is aware this is a new chapter for him and in a sense he does get to start over. That’s kind of the beauty of a trade. You get to come here and make it your own. All the preconceived notions that other teams, players, whatever they may have about you… it’s going to take time — not just D’Angelo, this is anybody that comes into a new organization — to develop that sort of trust and respect. And I think he’s well on his way to doing it.”
Russell didn’t waste much time getting in the gym and working on his game. He posted a video on Instagram of him going through a late-night workout at the Nets facility on Sunday night.
“I wasn’t upset to leave Los Angeles,” Russell said. “I feel like wherever I go, I will make it home. … I know what I am capable of. And I know that I wasn’t — with me not being as experienced as I want to be — perceived as or whatnot. … I am not really worried about that.”
“I am tired of talking about what I do or what I am going to do,” he added. “I think I have showed it. I want to get in right away and let my actions speak.”