D’Angelo Russell’s tenure in the NBA has made him both aware of the business of the NBA as well as hardened by it. As fun as his return to Los Angeles has been, D’Lo has also been well aware that this could be a short tenure with the Lakers again.
That constant process has meant he hasn’t even attempted to plant roots anywhere. Entering his ninth season in the league, though, and in a place with possibly his best chance yet at winning a title, D’Lo is breaking out of his comfort zone.
Darvin Ham has gone some way in helping D’Lo in that process. Heading into preseason, Ham removed all doubt about Russell’s role on the team by declaring him the starting point guard. And that type of thing hasn’t gone unnoticed by D’Angelo.
“He’s been huge,” Ham said. “Honestly, coming in at a late time during the season last year, you don’t really have the opportunity to build that chemistry with your head coach. For me, going into this season, honestly, I appreciate all those comments for sure. Going into the season, I wanted to come out of my way and do things I’ve never done which is build a strong relationship and a report with a head coach.
“Being traded a few times, you don’t get that opportunity, especially going into back-to-back seasons,” Russell said when speaking to ESPNLA at media day on Monday. “For me, going into another season with the same coaching staff, things like that, it all plays into my favor. I appreciate that comfort. I appreciate that dialogue between player-coach.”
Not only is he taking note of what Ham has done, he’s also reaching out on his end, too. Russell is going the extra mile for, as he says, the first time in his career to try to form that bond with his head coach.
“From summer, not just in the season, from the summertime calling coach, calling him, checking in, seeing where he’s at, what he’s got going on,” Russell said. “Things like that that I know, personally, I didn’t really do because I didn’t think there was value in that. I was like ‘Let’s play basketball, you do your job and I do mine.’ But, obviously, it’s bigger than that. If you want to play later on in the season, you need that chemistry. The teams that have it, they do really well. The teams that don’t, they’re trying to keep up.”
It’s an impressive level of insight from Russell and shows his willingness and dedication to wanting to be better this season both individually and as a team. Multiple Lakers spoke about the team’s chemistry and depth during media day, but few did it as D’Lo did.
The Lakers have some advantages heading into this season, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have success. Building on those advantages can make them a title contender, but it’ll take the extra effort akin to what D’Lo is doing.
And if everyone buys in similarly, then the Lakers could really be set for a big year.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.