Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell arrived last summer with a mountain of pressure on his shoulders. As the second overall pick, many expected Russell to become the star player that would lead the Lakers back to relevancy. Adding to the burden, Kobe Bryant was retiring, and fans were anxious to anoint a new heir apparent to the throne.
While he may not have quite lived up to the unrealistic expectations right out of the gate, Russell still showed flashes of brilliance that indicate that he has a very bright future ahead of him. With Bryant retired, all eyes are on Russell to take on a leadership role next season and become the focal point of the team.
However, in an interview with Oliver Maroney of Bleacher Report, Russell was quick to dispel the notion that he is gunning to replace Bryant as the team’s superstar:
“That’s something that chooses you, you can’t just go after that. You can put those accolades on yourself, but in the long-term that’s something that chooses you. I feel like with this team we have, we’ll be successful. Nobody’s saying, ‘You’re going to be the next Kobe…’ My teammates and I just want to be the best team, and that’s all that matters to me…I want to be the best point guard for this team and make sure it’s in a winning fashion. For me, it’s always about winning as a team. I just want to grow and improve, game after game.”
Russell’s deflection of the spotlight is certainly admirable, as was the way that he brought the focus back onto his teammates rather than himself. The Lakers do have a plethora of young talent, but Russell’s leadership and habit of hitting big shots means that a lot of attention is going to come his way regardless.
Whether or not he eventually becomes the next face of the franchise remains to be seen, but for right now it sounds like Russell is focused on the right things.