A new era of Laker basketball officially began Wednesday night, with D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson leading L.A. to a season-opening win, and the point guard can finally breathe now that Kobe Bryant’s presence isn’t looming over everything.
Russell, 20, says he’s enjoying his newfound “freedom”.
Laker Nation will now be looking to its promising young core to lead them into the future.
“Coach’s style of play is run-and-gun and try to make the right play,” Russell says. “He wants us to learn from each other, play off each other, and he’s always encouraging us in practice, whether it’s to shoot the ball or to get a stop so we can have fun on the other end. Hearing that from your coach is the best feeling in the world.”
Meanwhile, a new team philosophy-and a Kobe-sized hole in the game plan-has Clarkson, at least, envisioning a Warriors South in LA. “We’re all about playing together now,” he says. “It’s not about one guy anymore. It’s about sacrificing for the team.” Adds Russell, “Kobe deserved every bit of attention he got in his last year, but there’s freedom in Kobe not being around.”
There’s also a leadership vacuum that they plan to fill as a unit. “There’s no one leader, no face of the Lakers,” Russell says, citing the Spurs as the template. “When we traveled to San Antonio last season, I noticed that it’s about everybody-they had all those household names, but the 15th guy got the same amount of attention as Tim Duncan, who’s a legend. I feel like we’re all buying into that concept. We’re a team now. And that’s exciting.”