D’Angelo Russell received a clear message from Lakers’ leaders during his exit interview on Tuesday.
They wanted to see him improve his consistency, his leadership and his body.
“I wouldn’t say I played bad, but I looked throughout the season, I would say I was inconsistent at times,” Russell said. “Just in the exit interview that was the main focus, being consistent. The best thing about that is I can control that. I can control how much work I put in for me to be consistent. I know how hard I worked last summer and I saw the outcome of that for this year. I’m just excited because I kind of got a better feel for it going into my third year.”
Most of the Lakers exit interviews were conducted Thursday. The players met with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Luke Walton in 30-minute slots.
Russell was home in Louisville, Ky., to grieve the loss of his grandmother, Pamela Russell, and attend her wake and funeral. He awoke to the news of her death on April 9.
“That was a crazy day for me,” Russell said. “… No one was home. So it was tough. … It was just my best friend [and] we talked, we had a detailed conversation. He was like, ‘This is the start of your legacy. You’ll remember this day forever.’ … Something was triggering me to play.”
Russell hit the game-winning shot that night — a three-pointer as time expired to beat Minnesota — then ran into the stands to find his family. The next day, he left for Louisville, missing the final two games of the season. Walton told him to take as long as he needed. The Lakers also sent flowers.
Russell remembered his grandmother as a woman who spoiled him, but who had a strong sense of right and wrong. She raised his father, Antonio Russell Sr., by herself, and passed on those values to her grandchildren as well. Though extremely close to her, Russell met friends of hers he’d never known.
Then he returned to Los Angeles to finish up the business of the end of the season.
Walton, Pelinka and Johnson all met with Russell. As they did with other players, they told him what they’d like to see him improve. He wasn’t the only player asked to work on his body.
During the 2016-17 season, his second since being drafted second overall in 2015, Russell had moments of brilliance and moments of failure. He missed 12 games early in the season with a knee injury that occasionally bothered him after he returned.
The Lakers played him at point guard for most of the season, and shooting guard near the end, as they worked to assess what position would be the best fit. Like the rest of the Lakers’ roster, his role in the future could depend on whom the team acquires this summer, whether through the draft, free agency or trades.
If he starts the 2017-18 season as the Lakers point guard, his leadership skills will be paramount to succeeding in that role.
Thinking about that isn’t something with which Russell is especially familiar.
“This is all new,” he said. “[In the past] everything was natural for me. What I said to players, how I came prepared to work. That was all natural. It was never, ‘Today I have to come this way because everybody is watching.’ I was never that, so it’s all new. … I’m ready. I’m excited for it.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli