One of the major underlying themes of the Los Angeles Lakers 2015-16 season was the underlying tension between former head coach Byron Scott and second overall pick D’Angelo Russell. The two were never outright feuding, but for anyone who bothered to look past the circus that was the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Extravaganza, it was clear that Russell and Scott never really jelled.
Since being let go, the discord between the two has been even more obvious. Scott went on a television and radio farewell tour of his own to ostensibly promote his future book, featuring appearances in which he spoke openly about how the Lakers almost took Kristaps Porzingis over Russell, and how the locker room sided with Nick Young during Snapchatgate.
For his part, Russell has taken every possible opportunity to give standing ovations and glowing praise to the new coaching staff, something that just wasn’t happening last year while his readiness and work ethic were frequently questioned by the head of the previous regime.
The latest stop on Russell’s farewell Byron tour came in an interview with new Los Angeles Times Lakers beat writers Tania Ganguli (add her to your Lakers Twitter follows).
To start, Russell praised the new coaching staff and also shared he didn’t feel like it was Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour that made his rookie season so difficult:
"I feel like if I came into the league this year, in this environment, it wouldn’t have been as tough," Russell said. "Even if Kobe was here, it still wouldn’t have been as tough. …
"The coaching staff, the whole atmosphere that this coaching staff brings is different."
Different, you say? How is it different?
I’m not saying better, I’m not downgrading the last coaching staff. I’m just saying the atmosphere they bring every day is a winning mentality."
Let’s read that back. "I’m not saying better... I’m just saying the atmosphere they bring every day is a winning mentality."
It sounds like in addition to the lack of winning mentality, the "great" last coaching staff was offering Russell the guidance he felt like he needed during his first year in the league.
He decided to "sit back and enjoy the show" that came with Bryant’s goodbye, and did. The losing, though, took a toll. And at 19, Russell felt he was navigating the new world of the NBA alone.
"Everything I went through was new, and there was no guidance from the people that were supposed to give me the guidance," Russell said.
So to recap, the last coaching staff was great, except for the part where they didn’t bring a winning mentality or give Russell guidance.
Look, Russell isn’t blameless for his rookie struggles, but he was also just a 19/20-year old going through his first season in the league. The last coaching staff took a tough love approach with him that didn’t seem to be getting great results, and stuck with it anyway.
Scott is gone now, and it won’t be much longer until his shadow isn’t seen in the background of the boundless enthusiasm players are showing for their new coaches. But it’s still been pretty amazing/amusing how deft Russell has become at subtly throwing shade of his own this offseason.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.