The diplomacy has begun in the Lakers’ locker room, with players publicly saying they won’t take sides in the D’Angelo Russell-Nick Young ordeal.
“Both these guys have my support,” forward Julius Randle said. “That’s their personal situation.”
If winning creates healing, the Lakers are off to a good start Wednesday with a 102-100 overtime victory against playoff-bound Miami. It was only one night, though, with many more unpredictable days awaiting Russell.
The rookie has faced searing public criticism since the video he secretly taped of teammate Young was leaked earlier this week. In it, Young was talking about women that were not his fiancée, rapper Iggy Azalea.
“It’s just unfortunate, man. It’s tough,” Bryant said. “I’m sure he’ll evolve. I’m sure he will grow and I’m sure he’ll be better from it.
“I don’t think there’s much he can do about it outside of the countless apologies. There’s not really anything else to do but just continue to perform, continue to win the trust of his teammates and peers, and onward he goes.”
Russell, 20, said he couldn’t show his face anywhere in L.A. because everyone hated him so much. He was only partly joking. He was booed by Lakers fans during pregame introductions and when he touched the ball early in Wednesday’s game. By the end of it, fans cheered when he hit two key shots in overtime to salvage an otherwise ragged shooting night.
Russell talked to teammates Wednesday night, said Bryant, who called them “understanding” of his predicament.
“If we’re being honest with ourselves and we’re sincerely self-assessing, I think we’ll realize that we’ve all made mistakes and we’ve all made massive ones at times,” Bryant said. “I think the important thing is to show compassion and empathy and help him grow and help us grow as a team, as a unit.”
Bryant, for his part, is falling apart rapidly.
It’s somewhat impressive to think he’s on track to play 66 games after his previous three seasons were cut short by injuries. But the 37-year-old is barely getting to the April 13 finish line.
“Mucho dolor,” he said when asked by a Spanish-speaking reporter how he felt. A lot of pain, indeed.
He looked like the Michelin Man while sitting on the bench wrapped in bandages after leaving Wednesday’s game for good late in the first quarter. He exited after not being able to get back on defense for a fastbreak, he said.
“There was no hope tonight,” he said, labeling what pained him the most. “Everything. My shoulder, my knees, my ankles.” In his last two games, he’s totaled seven points on two-for-18 shooting.
Bryant was more optimistic, if not reflective, while talking about former teammate Lamar Odom, whom he invited to watch the game from a courtside seat. They spent several minutes afterward in the Lakers’ training room.
“It was just like old times,” Bryant said. “It was great to talk basketball, talk trash. It was great. Unbelievable.”
Bryant spoke glowingly of Odom’s physical condition five months after he was found unresponsive in a Nevada brothel after taking cocaine and several doses of a Viagra-type medication, according to a Nevada sheriff.
“It’s a miracle, honestly. In Vegas he was…" Bryant said, his voice trailing off. “To see him walking around now as if nothing even happened. It’s really a miracle.”
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