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LOS ANGELES — When former Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell found out last month that he had been traded to the Brooklyn Nets, it didn’t come as a complete surprise.
“I was kind of prepared for it,” he said at Tuesday’s Gatorade Athlete of the Year Awards here, which saw pitcher MacKenzie Gore and sprinter/hurdler Sydney McLaughlin take home male and female honors from the sports drink giant. “A lot of people get traded, so you can’t really dwell on it.”
The Lakers, after all, had already been targeting Lonzo Ball as their next floor leader, turning their dream into a reality two days later when they selected the former UCLA star with the No. 2 overall pick at the NBA Draft.
But it was what Lakers President Magic Johnson said after the trade—explaining that what the team needed right now “was a leader” and “somebody also that can make the other players better and also (somebody) that players want to play with”—that drew some ire, although not directly from Russell.
The team’s former No. 2 overall draft pick, instead, took Johnson’s comments almost as a compliment.
“Magic is one of the greatest of all time,” Russell said. “For him to say something like that, for me, is still an honor. Whatever criticism he has for me, I’m going to take it and make the best of it. I don’t look at it as a negative.”
It was a surprising, yet mature response from a 21-year-old who a little more than a year ago found himself in the middle of a major kerfuffle for his prank-gone-wrong with ex-teammate Nick Young.
“For him to say something like that, for me, is still an honor. Whatever criticism he has for me, I’m going to take it and make the best of it. I don’t look at it as a negative.”
For Russell though, changing teams and coasts serves as a fresh start and a new opportunity after seeing his scoring average jump from 13.2 to 15.6 points per game last season.
“Being in the situation that Brooklyn has offered me, I’m excited,” said Russell, who will assume even more of a leadership role with a young Nets team that only won 20 games last season.
Russell, in fact, has been so excited about the 2017-18 NBA season that he has been spotted on multiple occasions—thanks to his Instagram account—working out at the Nets’ practice facility after midnight.
“It was more that I was up and couldn’t sleep,” he said about his recent early-morning workouts. “The time difference had my sleep schedule thrown off. I’m going to polish my game as much as I can when I get the opportunity.”
So far, Russell’s teammates have welcomed him with open arms, and while there’s sure to be some growing pains as they learn to play together, he’s eager to get started.
“It’s a major learning curve, especially when you go to a new situation,” he said. “I’ve never been traded before, so it’s a good opportunity for me to make the best of it. You never know what the future holds.”
Meanwhile, he wishes nothing but the best for his old team as he watches their Summer League games from afar.
“I think the Lakers look good,” he said. “They got a lot of young talent.”