The Los Angeles Lakers were an awful team during the 2014-15 NBA season, only winning 21 games, and setting a new franchise-low win total for the second consecutive season in the process as the team struggled due to lack of talent and a rampant injury bug. The reward for such a moribund season? The franchise got to avoid sending it's top-five protected 2015 first round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers when the lottery balls bounced the Lakers' way and awarded the team the second overall pick in the draft, which the front office used to select point guard D'Angelo Russell out of Ohio State University.
Russell, in an interview with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, sounds confident that his presence, combined with the offseason additions of Lou Williams and Roy Hibbert, as well as the return of Kobe Bryant, can spur the second worst team in the Western Conference last season into the playoffs:
As far as team goals go, Russell essentially guaranteed L.A. will make the postseason next year.
"Expectations are high," Russell says, "but this Lakers squad will most definitely be a playoff team."
Russell was similarly unabashed when asked about his chances to win Rookie of the Year:
While some rookies might doubt themselves or buckle under the extreme pressure, Russell is so confident that he isn't afraid to predict he'll have a monster 2015-16 season.
For example, when asked if winning Rookie of the Year is among his goals this upcoming season, Russell responds as if the answer is obvious.
"Of course," Russell said. "I have been grinding all summer to put myself in that position."
While most project the playoffs as a pipe dream for the Lakers, those involved with the team seem to believe otherwise. Bryant, Jordan Clarkson, and Mitch Kupchak have all spoken openly (with varying degrees of certainty) about their hopes that this current outfit can make a run to the postseason for the first time since the team's disappointing 2013 appearance.
Russell being so self confident is reminiscent of the similarly cocky and self-assured Bryant's presence with the franchise over the past 19 years, making at least one aspect of their much hoped-for torch passing fairly natural. Between these bold statements from Russell and fellow first round pick Larry Nance, Jr guaranteeing he would dunk on someone, the newest crop of Lakers rookies certainly does not lack for confidence.