The void left by Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers is large and covers a lot of different things both on and off the court. One of the most important things Kobe brought to the team was leadership, and with him gone, many are looking towards D’Angelo Russell to take over in that role.
The Lakers brought in a few veterans such as Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, and Jose Calderon, but it was Russell who head coach Luke Walton consistently spoke highly of throughout the offseason, complimenting his leadership during Summer League as well as in workouts and training camp.
Despite everyone seemingly looking towards him to take over as the undisputed leader of the new-look Lakers, Russell told Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders that the leadership comes from the entire team:
“You can’t really give that leadership quality to anybody, or that role to anybody,” Russell said. “It’s just gotta be a team thing. It slowly just builds on players. For me, I know that when adversity sets in, I just try to respond the right way.”
Russell may believe that it’s about the entire team, but there is no doubt that there is a ton of responsibility on him as both the point guard and arguably the face of the franchise. How he has handled that has impressed veteran Lou Williams:
“I couldn’t imagine being 19, 20 years old with so much responsibility on your shoulders,” Lakers veteran Lou Williams said. “I think he’s handled it well, with a lot of grace.”
Things are only going to get tougher from here for Russell. As he grows and gains more experience in the NBA, his expectations both as a leader and a player will continue to increase.
If he can thrive under these circumstances, he should come out of the other end a better player and person, ready to lead the Lakers back into the NBA’s upper echelon.