The Los Angeles Lakers have entered into a new era now that superstar guard Kobe Bryant has retired after two decades in purple and gold. New coach Luke Walton has come on board to attempt to change both the playing style and culture of the team and so far, the results are promising.
Without Bryant, much of the burden to both produce on the court and lead on and off of it has fallen on guard D’Angelo Russell. As the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Russell is growing used to high expectations. Furthermore, as much as the franchise may miss Bryant’s presence, Russell told SLAM that there are some advantages to playing without Kobe:
“We’re all about playing together now. It’s not about one guy anymore. It’s about sacrificing for the team. Kobe deserved every bit of attention he got in his last year, but there’s freedom in Kobe not being around.”
Russell speaks to the new vibe that has been noticeable around the team this year. Not only are we seeing more teamwork this season, but players appear to be genuinely excited to play basketball, something that couldn’t always be said last year. Credit has to be given to Walton and his coaching staff for creating a positive environment, but the players have to be complimented as well. They have shown up ready to compete since before training camp began, and the hope is that this new mentality will persist even when the Lakers reach the dog days of the long NBA season.
While Russell has yet to have a true breakout performance during the first two games of the regular season, he has done a solid job organizing the offense and running the team. Sooner or later, a signature “ice in my veins” game will come. One player can’t replace Bryant, but Russell is doing what he can to help transition the Lakers into a bright future.