“I didn’t know what the reason behind it was,” Russell said on the July 26 edition of The Woj Pod with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “I’m off your hands. I have nothing to do with you. I’m on a new team. I don’t understand the comments, I still don’t.”
Two days before the draft, Los Angeles dealt the 21-year-old Russell along with Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn in exchange for Brook Lopez and the late-first-round pick that became Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers later selected point guard Lonzo Ball No. 2 overall, and when introducing his new players, Johnson took what many perceived as a jab at Russell on his way out.
Magic Johnson on D’Angelo Russell: "We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader.” Full quote: pic.twitter.com/3FhPthOpN1— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 23, 2017
"D'Angelo is an excellent player," Johnson said. “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 never publicly responded to Johnson’s critique. Magic is one of the best point guards to ever step foot on a basketball court. What does he, a third-year player mired in scrutiny much of his career, have to gain going back and forth with an all-time great?
Instead, the No. 2 pick in 2015 got to work on his own, and in Brooklyn, Russell feels he has an undergrad-like structure that can help him succeed as he moves into the second phase of his young career.
“I think in LA, it’s not like college,” Russell said. “The way that Brooklyn runs things seems more college-y. You have a schedule laid out every day, every time, and you know what it is.
“I think that, especially when you’re a young player and you’ve got this structure, you definitely thrive in that because it’s what you come from. You come from high school with structure, you come from college with structure. Then you get to the NBA and you got no structure, so it’s different. But then when you come into a structured situation, that’s different too. So, we’ll see.”
Now with the Nets, Russell will split his time as the lead guard with Jeremy Lin.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson projected using the duo of guards in a similar fashion to how Portland utilizes Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Russell said he learned how to play off the ball his rookie year alongside Kobe Bryant. He got more run off-ball toward the end of last season with the Lakers.
Russell feels equally comfortable playing either guard spot, but noted the relative ease he felt playing off the ball.
“It's easier. I like the ability to be able to do both jobs,” he said. “But playing off the ball i feel like you have one job and that's to play-make on the offensive end. On the defensive end, definitely guard your position. But on the offensive end, just play make, and I feel like that's my strength instead of coming up across half-court with the ball in my hands and setting up guys — and then when the ball comes back making plays.
“It's vice versa, when you off the ball as soon as you get it you can make those plays and attack the defense. So it's definitely easier, but wherever I'm at, i feel i can make it work."
Brooklyn posted the NBA’s worst record last season but did not have its own draft pick. They dealt it — and next year’s pick — to Boston in the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett trade.
The promising young guard headlined a Nets offseason that also featured deals for DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, and lanky rookie big man Jarrett Allen. Brooklyn is hoping Russell can be their guard of the future, and he, in turn, is excited for the next chapter of his career.
“Me coming to Brooklyn and everything's new; Sean Marks has his credibility, Kenny has his credibility,” he said. “Me, I'm trying to find myself in this league, and I'm under these guys' wing.
“I'm looking forward to it. It's all new, it's a new start. Everything about it, when you lay out the pros and cons of the situation, I don't really see too many cons that override the pros of the situation so, I'm excited."