If not for the palpable consequences that have and will come from the D'Angelo Russell-Nick Young saga of the past week, it would almost be too stupid to physically write down on a page, let alone say out loud. Actually, it's not, but without the colloquialisms and inflections that would presumably populate a gossip session between two high schoolers straight from central casting for "Things People Think Teenagers Say", it lacks a certain realness.
OK, so, like, D'Angelo Russell, I guess, totally secretly videotaped Nick Young talking about messing around with some 19-year-old while he was engaged to Iggy Azalea or something. Then, it like, leaked somehow, through Snapchat or something? I think? Anyway, everyone is SUPER pissed at D'Angelo, and I guess Nick and Iggy are kinda on the rocks now. I mean, I guess Nick and D'Angelo mess around like that all the time and this one just went too far, and D'Angelo said he was sorry and stuff, but, like, he got booed at the game the other night and I'm not sure if everyone is chill with each other yet.
To be fair, the incapacitating stupidity of this entire situation doesn't mean some real life bad stuff won't come from this. The engagement of two people could be in jeopardy, potentially irreparable damage has been done to a friendship, the already threadbare fabric of a historically awful basketball team (however transient its members) has been strained even further, and the reputation of the Los Angeles Lakers' most singularly valuable asset has been tarnished. Feel free to mock the circumstances under which this became public (as I have), but now that it has, the fallout is affecting the lives of real human beings.
About that last part, only time will tell the degree to which players around the NBA have soured on the idea of D'Angelo Russell as a teammate. Though, as the righteous indignation of the public abates in the coming weeks and months and we put down our torches and pitchforks long enough to examine the realities of this scenario, it gets more and more difficult to envision a world in which D'Angelo Russell's career as a Laker someday ends with fans left shaking their heads, lamenting, "Man, if only he hadn't recorded that Nick Young video."
Having said that, the Laker fans that survived their own attempts at self-immolation this week should be grateful that the next ten off-seasons' prospective free agents aren't force-fed a highlight reel of Wednesday's outraged punditry and forced to immediately make a decision.
Stephen A. Smith exacted his latest blood meal in going apoplectic Wednesday morning before he and First Take shouting partner Skip Bayless seamlessly transitioned into examining Russell's basketball shortcomings as if poking at a soiled diaper with a stick. Raja Bell said if he were the Lakers' general manager, he would've traded Russell on the spot, which, putting aside the pesky details of the governing laws of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, would be a terrible idea, even if only from a practical perspective. Stephen Jackson went so far as to dust off the "snitches get stiches" line in reference to how he would handle Russell's breach of trust, which is actually kind of terrifying, though "loose lips sink ships" would seem more accurate in this instance.
On the one hand, Russell's intent here is important. If he was believed to be engaging in some kind of purposefully shady "cash for trash" dealings with a local tabloid, he'd rightfully be burned at the stake. On the other hand, in the minds of players around the league, his intent may be immaterial. The results speak for themselves and there can be a straight line drawn between the leaking of the video and Russell's viability as a trustworthy teammate.
Regardless of whether or not you feel that the intention behind what ultimately resulted in a very public violation of trust matters, there isn't really a defense to be made for what happened as far as the backlash toward Russell is concerned. He screwed up, badly. He broke the confidence of a friend and teammate, however accidentally. This stuff matters to players, and it should.
Whether you roll your eyes at any mention of a "man code" being broken, or conversely, are in disbelief at how anyone could take offense on the behalf of someone who has potentially broken an even more sacred and heretofore soon to be legal bond, this is Russell's fault, and to his credit, he seems to know it. Russell seems genuinely contrite, but whether or not that translates to forgiveness in the eyes of teammates and colleagues around the NBA is up for debate. Ultimately, this may certainly end up being one of those situations in which a favorite sports cliché rings true: winning cures all.
If, in two or three years' time, the Lakers young core is coalescing well and showing far more than just glimmers of potential with D'Angelo Russell as the star around which a great team can orbit for years to come, is a prospective free agent really going to say to his agent, "I can't play for the Lakers because I am worried that D'Angelo Russell will secretly videotape me saying something that could get me in trouble"?
Gross oversimplifications and self-serving argumentative tactics aside, when the emotion of what happened between Nick and D'Angelo begins to subside and time has distilled the core issue behind Russell's misstep as being pure, unadulterated stupidity as opposed to something more sinister, it seems reasonable to expect that the hardline stance permeating the collective psyche of players around the league will soften as well.
Even now, the blood pressure of the NBA audience seems to be stabilizing as the inane details of this scandal come to light. Age is no excuse, nor does it need to be -- people of all ages are capable of horrendous lapses in judgement. D'Angelo Russell did something truly damaging, immature and, because it doesn't merit more eloquence, really dumb. His actions were so far beyond the realm of common sense that, ironically, a well-known meme involving Nick Young's face and a sextet of question marks does a far better job of describing it than words ever could. Foolish yes, but a rat bastard he is not.
As for Russell's confidence being shaken, that seems unlikely. In spite of the deluge of reports of immaturity that rained down after the scandal broke this week, the rookie's rock solid self assurance has been just as heavily reported on. Additionally, Russell's performance on Wednesday, while not particularly efficient, didn't exactly smack of someone questioning his own ability. Russell's comments since Wednesday have been similarly reassuring, exuding genuine contrition and confidence in equal measure.
There's no way of truly knowing how players will treat D'Angelo Russell going forward, but the concentrated ire and weaponized rhetoric of the past few days will pass. As much as Laker fans would like to flush this incident away into whatever cesspit the rest of this season will reside in the annals of NBA history, it may linger for a good while. Fans may forget. Players won't. Whether or not they can forgive may shape the Lakers' fortunes for years to come.
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