The D’Angelo Russell – Nick Young situation came out of thin air and surprised many, but it really should not be as shocking as one might think. Of course, the specific situation and details were occurrences that no one could have predicted, but the fact that the something like this would happen to the Lakers should not stun fans. In fact, there was no locker room more likely to have something like this take place.
D’Angelo Russell – Nick Young Situation Highlights Lakers Organizational Flaws
Looking back to the first week of January. Mitch Kupchak, Lakers general manager, admitted what many analysts and fans already knew: this season was more about honoring Kobe Bryant, rather than developing their youth. He went so far as to say, “Under normal circumstances [in a season like this], at some point, you would probably concentrate on just developing all your young players. But we can’t do that right now.”
That’s the difference between the team who drafted 1st overall in the 2015 NBA Draft and the team who drafted 2nd. The Minnesota Timberwolves have not devoted their season to honoring a retiring superstar, nor have they made winning the top priority, either. The Timberwolves have dedicated their season to growth, which is far more important than giving a washed up superstar extra minutes or getting a few more wins for a team who was never going to sniff the playoffs. The Lakers were smart to not make winning their own top priority, because they lose their draft pick to Philadelphia if it falls outside the top three. But they dropped the ball on what should have been their main focus this season: developing their young core as much as possible.
This isn’t to say that the Timberwolves have done everything perfectly. Sam Mitchell ripped the T-Wolves after their 20 point loss against the Clippers on Wednesday night, stating that his team has to grow up. And their performance in the 76th game of the year isn’t the only problem for Minnesota. Another concern is that Sam Mitchell is the one making those statements. Sam Mitchell may not be the best coach to groom what is maybe the best young core that an NBA team has been gifted in the past five seasons.
But the Timberwolves have done a much better job than the Lakers. The late Flip Saunders knew that his team needed veteran leadership to mentor Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the rest of his young players, and so he added Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller (for two-thirds of a season). He and owner Glen Taylor made it known that developing the team’s young studs would be job number one in Minnesota.
The Lakers, on the other hand, did not. Kobe Bryant played at least 30 minutes per night for the months of November, December, and February. At this point in his career, Bryant only deserves to play 30 minutes a night if the game goes to (at least) triple overtime. On the Lakers roster, Bryant, Brandon Bass, Lou Williams, and Metta World Peace have at least 10 years of experience in the league. Only Roy Hibbert and Nick Young join the list if you lower the criteria all the way down to four years. This is not to say that any of those players are bad influences to have on a team at this point in their careers, but only Bryant could be considered a leader in the same class as Tayshaun Prince, Andre Miller, or especially Kevin Garnett.
And one must examine the whole “honoring Kobe is more important than developing our young guys” issue again. How ridiculous is that? Kobe Bryant is one of the most ferocious competitors of all time. Once Shaquille O’Neal was out of the picture and no one could question who the Lakers’ alpha dog was, Kobe’s chief priority was making the Los Angeles Lakers a better basketball team. Wouldn’t it be smart to honor Kobe by sticking true to the principles that he demonstrated during his career?
The Lakers’ season has been more about putting on a show than developing a basketball team. It would be foolish to suggest that such an organizational philosophy is responsible for exactly what happened between D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young, but it’s also not a coincidence that something like this happens in a locker room where bonding together and building a team is not the ultimate goal.