Last season was the last in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform for legend Kobe Bryant as after 20 seasons and a multitude of injuries he decided it was time to retire.
In his last season Bryant was surrounded by young, inexperienced players which was difficult for even Bryant who was known to be one of the best leaders in the league throughout his career. Unfortunately the Lakers finished with a franchise worst 17-65 record.
With Bryant no longer on the team the Lakers are searching for a new leader, and it appears second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell is beginning to embrace that role.
According to Baxter Holmes of ESPN, Russell spoke to Bryant before the team’s season opener and Bryant put his confidence in Russell to lead this Lakers team:
When asked who he has spoken to about leadership, Lakers second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell told the ESPN game crew, “I talked to Kobe [Bryant] yesterday, just letting him know I was ready. He told me I looked ready. Coming from him that was great to hear going into opening night.” (Via ESPN’s Larry Starks)
Russell also recently said that first year coach Luke Walton has helped him develop into a leader, and Walton recently pegged Russell, the team’s starting point guard, as one of the players he has seen leadership from so far this season.
The 20-year-old helped lead his team Wednesday night as the Lakers came back to beat the Houston Rockets 120-114 in their season opener at Staples Center. Russell had 20 points and three assists on 7-of-16 shooting.
Russell’s maturity came into question multiple times during his rookie season, particularly by then-head coach Byron Scott and after an incident involving his teammate Nick Young, but Russell appears to have put those issues behind him enough so that even Bryant is putting his trust in Russell to lead the franchise that Bryant led for the past two decades.