After being traded to the Lakers mid-season, D’Angelo Russell played with a freedom and excitement that he didn’t always have in Minnesota. The Timberwolves certainly allowed him to be the playmaker he is after coveting him for years, but it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine at the end of their tenure together, hence him being traded.
Once he settled in with the Lakers and found success, the story was always going to come about where things went wrong in Minnesota. But when it came to light in a piece by Sam Amick of The Athletic, it came with the fiery quote in which Russell said he was “held back” in Minnesota.
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over well with Wolves fans. It didn’t help that D’Lo followed that article up, which was published during the Warriors series, with one of his worst performances of the postseason by going 1-10 for four points.
Months removed from the situation, Russell took the chance to clarify his comments while appearing on Patrick Beverley’s podcast earlier this summer.
It was a very lengthy response, so we’ll summarize some parts and break this up into chunks. This first part, though, felt important to include verbatim.
“First of all, let me break it down, right? I got to LA and was doing media, doing media, doing media and there was always this one dude kind of like hanging out behind to catch me by myself, right? And I was like ‘He’s got a motive.’ I knew he had a motive. I could feel it so I didn’t really give him nothing. The third time he tried, I didn’t give him (nothing). The fourth time he kind of hung around the media after they said goodbye and walking out and was like ‘Can I catch you?’. (I was like) ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah what’s up man.’ (He said) ‘You haven’t spoke about your time in Minnesota, how do you feel?’ (I said) ‘I love it, it was great. It was my first time really playing in a system and I was part of a system and it was pass, swing, swing and it was all these factors that played into my success.’ And he ran with what I said and said I felt held back just to get the clicks. You know how that works.
Russell would go on to say he never actually felt that way and never really said that. He credited Wolves head coach Chris Finch because “they opened my eyes to the game at a level I didn’t see the game from.” He then offered his first rationale for actually saying the words “held back.”
So, when I say held back, it was never held back, it was more or less like I didn’t get to be who I wanted to be. I wanted to be more than they wanted me to be. And they allowed me to be and come and do things that I wanted to do, of course. But as far as finding a home in the NBA, it’s a hard thing to do.
Russell said he was trying to find a home in Minnesota and sacrificed to make things work.
I guess from me expressing that and explaining that, he took that as I was being held back. I appreciated Minnesota, bro. I never really felt held back. It was fun.”
When stuff like that come out, I don’t really follow up because it keeps giving it the buzz that it probably don’t deserve. So, I let it marinate. I definitely didn’t mean that and that’s what came out.”
You can’t really fault his approach in that last part. Addressing the rumors only makes them bigger in the moment and by ignoring them, it became a story forgotten quite quickly.
However, you can fault him for playing the “I was misquoted” card. Here was his full quote, as published, when asked how much he was enjoying the Lakers.
How much am I enjoying this? I felt like I was held back there, honestly. I just kind of had to be the third option. Some nights, I was a little more aggressive and was kind of being held back. So to be in a position now where I can kind of thrive and be aggressive and it gets guys going, and where the team reflects off of anybody with that type of energy, it’s fun.
Short of quotes just outright not being included, the article says it was only “lightly edited for brevity and clarity” — then Russell said those things. Now, he may not have meant them as they came out, but he did say it. There isn’t really any way you can claim that’s not what you said.
Ultimately, though, it’s water under the bridge. Russell’s focus now is on the Lakers and making them competitive once more next season, as it should be. Hopefully he has all the freedom he needs to excel on that front.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.