The Los Angeles Lakers 2015-16 season has been a weird balancing act. On one hand, the team is trying to develop all of the young talent it has acquired over the past few years, players like Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr., and Anthony Brown. On the other, the Lakers organization is trying to give longtime star Kobe Bryant a farewell tour in his 20th and final campaign wearing a purple and gold uniform.
This farewell tour has included not only plenty of off-the-floor promotion of it being Bryant's last season, but also extended on to the court. The 37-year old veteran has been given the greenest of green lights to fire away as much as he wishes (leading the team in usage rate at 30.6 percent despite shooting just 31.7 percent from the field) before fading away for the last time when the season ends.
Russell, the point guard the Lakers drafted to lead their next generation upon Bryant's retirement, spoke with Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News about the difficulties of the team's current balancing act:
"Honestly, it's hard. It's not easy," Lakers rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell said during NBA All-Star weekend. "He's a guy that's earned every shot he's taken and earned every minute he's given. So you feel like being a rookie, but you feel like you've worked to be in [this] position so early. But you've just got to be patient."
Despite thinking that the season has been difficult, Russell also acknowledges that Bryant has earned his current status and that it has been fun to watch him turn back the clock at times:
"When he shows up when he does, he's a showman and you really enjoy it," Russell said. "It doesn't bother me. He's deserved every bit of this farewell tour. Even though we're struggling, he deserves it all."
Some people will want to crush Russell for admitting that this season has not been an easy one, but it's been obvious to anyone watching the team that he's not wrong. While Kobe's 20 years of service to the Lakers franchise have earned him all of the appreciation he's been getting, his inefficient gunning has shot the Lakers out of more games than it has kept them in. When combined with an entire team that is far below par defensively, it's been a major factor in the Lakers only having 11 wins in their 55 games so far. Those aren't the only reasons the Lakers have been losing, something Russell is not blameless in either, but they have been as large of components as any.
Russell's willingness to be honest with the press during this tough season has been refreshing, but given the overreactions these comments are likely to generate nationally, he may start keeping Clarkson with him for interviews the rest of the year so the sophomore guard can tell him "don't say anything crazy."
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.