The Los Angeles Lakers are in the middle of a transition period now that superstar guard Kobe Bryant has retired. They must not only develop their young talent into the stars of tomorrow, but they also have to determine who will fill the leadership void now that Bryant has left.
Second-year guard D’Angelo Russell appears to be a likely candidate thanks to his endless confidence and floor-general responsibilities from the point guard position. Lakers coach Luke Walton recently sat down with NBA TV and talked about what Russell will need to do in order to inherit Bryant’s leadership role:
“ …you have to show them that you’re worth following…we know that (Kobe Bryant) was very hard on his teammates, but when you see him as the first player in the gym every day, you see him as the last player to leave every day, you see the work he’s putting in, how hard he’s competing, how much he’s trying to bring you along and work with you. Then all of the sudden you want to play for him, and that’s what D’Angelo is learning to do, that’s what he’s going to have to do to be a great leader…not by telling them but by showing them on the court that he has their back too. That he’s willing to do the extra work. He’s going to play the point guard position from a place of getting everybody involved…and it takes time. No one just becomes a leader over night. It takes time and it takes adversity and going through adversity as a group to all of the sudden come up and have that type of faith in people.”
Of course, Walton is correct that it will take time for Russell to become the kind of leader the Lakers need him to be. Actions do speak louder than words, so he will have to prove to the team that he is prepared to step up as a leader this season.
For his part, Russell has been exuding those leadership qualities throughout the the entire offseason. Walton has spoken about how he stood out as a leader during Summer League, and teammates have expressed confidence in his ability to step up this season.
It’s not likely that any single player can completely fill the void left by Bryant, and Russell will be one of a few influential voices in the locker room. For the future, though, it does appear that the Lakers are now D’Angelo Russell’s team.