Having busted Nick Young for cheating on Iggy Azalea, the guard must salvage his ties to the Lakers with his play…
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell’s taping of teammate Nick Young discussing a “19-year-old” who presumably was unknown to his fiancée, rapper Iggy Azalea, has earned Russell widespread scorn, though gratitude from Iggy herself. For his part, Young notes he would never get involved with model Amber Rose because “she knows my girl.”
It all adds up to a new low point in a Laker season that has contained nothing but low points as they followed the worst year in the franchise’s nearly 70-year history (21-61) with an even worse one.
The Lakers have many, many problems, but their biggest one seems to be this: How do you build a team when your most promising player—from a pure talent perspective, 20-year-old Russell has bright days ahead of him—is hated by teammates who see him as completely untrustworthy?
This has the makings of a deeply unhappy team… but not necessarily a bad one.
Nick and Iggy on a better day…
The Lakers have for decades known great success and equally great dysfunction. Indeed, they have a history of players sharing embarrassing details about teammates’ sexual histories, with retiring Laker legend Kobe Bryant reportedly telling police during the lead-up to his 2004 sexual assault trial that Shaquille O’Neal “would pay his women not to say anything.” (By contrast, Kobe insisted he “treats a woman with respect.”) (And wow must Kobe be delighted that D’Angelo’s making him remember this chapter of his life during the farewell tour.)
2004 was also the year L.A. traded Shaq to Miami, hence improving team chemistry by ending the feud between their stars; the Lakers promptly went from winning three titles and making the Finals in Shaq’s final season to missing the playoffs completely in 2005.
There’s more. In 1981, Magic Johnson was a driving force in the firing of coach Paul Westhead. Albeit, to the best of our knowledge, over basketball reasons and not sexual secrets. Fellow future Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was close to Westhead and wounded by his dismissal. In Guru of Go, the 30 for 30 documentary about Westhead, Jabbar speaks movingly about how he enjoyed discussing Shakespeare with his former coach—you know, as your average pro athlete does.
This is the type of thing that can tear a franchise apart—if nothing else, Jabbar had to admit it was now Johnson’s team, not his—but instead, Magic and Kareem played together for another eight years and won four titles under Pat Riley, who I like to imagine bonded with his center by praising the skyhook for being as unstoppable as the policeman Javert in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
From frenemies to 4-time champs: Jabbar, Riley and Johnson.
It holds true in other sports too. Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo has insisted the relations between players are completely irrelevant—“The hugs and kisses don’t count for anything”—and declared during his most successful days at Manchester United he barely spoke to teammates. Which led former Man U. teammate Rio Ferdinand to recall fondly how the team interacted with the young man from Portugal: “He used to come in in tight jeans and we used to murder him. He didn’t get it.”
In short: It’s possible for a team to be magnificent and miserable all at once.
Of course, Kobe, Magic and Cristiano are very different from Russell in one essential way: They are stars. Superstars.
Russell is a dude scoring 13.1 points per game while shooting 42 percent on a team that wins barely 20 percent of its games.
If the Lakers were competing for a no. 1 seed and Russell were dropping 30 a night, players would simply whisper to each other, “Remember, should D’Angelo ask if you’re having any non-monogamous sex, change the topic” and that would be the end of it.
Then they’d secretly bitch about him to one another while happily cashing their playoff checks.
This is not to say teammates regarding each other with distrust and barely disguised loathing is the ideal work situation. In 2015, Ronaldo witnessed nemesis Lionel Messi win the Treble and reestablish himself as the dominant player of his generation and perhaps ever.
But what must have really pissed Ronaldo off is this…
Yes, it’s Messi’s Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez—who might just be the second best player in the world now—personally driving Messi to the training center when Messi was rehabbing his knee and apparently having a fine time doing so.
Gareth Bale might do that for CR7, but he’d be pissed.
D’Angelo Russell’s teammates wouldn’t even let him in the car.
That’s why D’Angelo Russell now has one option: Be great. Not average, not good, great.
When Kobe won titles in 2009 and 2010, it no longer mattered that he blew up the team in 2004.
If D’Angelo Russell continues to score 13 per, he’ll be known as a locker room cancer; If he doubles that figure the Lakers will say he’s worth the chemo.
Mr. Russell, in the words of Iggy’s single “Work”, it’s time for:
“Work, work, work, work, working on my shit.”
And Mr. Young, next time you realize you’re being recorded saying things like that, smash the smartphone.