Byron Scott no longer works for the Los Angeles Lakers, but that doesn't mean he's done discussing D'Angelo Russell. Eight days after being fired, the former Lakers coach appeared on The Dan Patrick Show on Monday and sandwiched some criticism of Russell's work ethic and attitude between compliments about his potential.
Here's the exchange:
As the Lakers move forward, now that you're no longer the coach is D'Angelo Russell the long-term -- I mean, can he be a star at that position, point guard?
I think he can. Obviously, there will be some question marks with that. His work ethic has to get better. His understanding of the game has to get better, but he has some tools. He can flat out score, he really sees the floor extremely well. So he has some tools you can't teach, but the little intricate parts of the game are the things he has to learn. And he's 20 years old. I mean, he's a young pup, he's got a long ways to go, but if he puts in the work, I think the kid can be a great player.
Did you have to give him tough love?
Absolutely. Every now and then. I think some of these guys, when they come into the league, they think they're entitled. And I thought that's how he felt when he first got with us. He almost tried to act like he was a veteran, and I tried to make sure that he knew that he wasn't a veteran. You have to earn your stripes. So yeah, there were times where I was a little tough on him just to bring him back down to earth, to let him know that this is not an easy task when you're in the NBA. That's the easy part is getting there. The hardest part is staying there, getting better and better and better. So yeah, I had some tough love for the young man. But just like I told him, 'When I stop talking to you, that's going to be a problem.' I had a lot of love for him and he put himself in some tough situations obviously, but I think he's going to be a good player."
After a season in which Scott yanked Russell's minutes around, pulled him out of the starting lineup and repeatedly told reporters that he was immature, this feels like an appropriate way to end the Scott-Russell saga. One last time, Scott had to explain how he treated the No. 2 pick in the draft by calling him "entitled."
In a healthier organization, of course, this never would have been a story, let alone one of the defining parts of the season. Other coaches are hard on their young players, but they usually also protect them from criticism, rather than being the source of it. If Russell develops into an All-Star in a few years, people will laugh at how needlessly rocky his rookie season was.
Scott's first answer was actually pretty good. Russell is 20, and just like any player his age, he has a lot of room to improve. It appears that Los Angeles' new coach, Luke Walton, would prefer to focus on that part.
"To me, he can be a perennial All-Star," Walton said on Saturday, via the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. "He has the vision that you want your point guard to have. He sees the floor. Once they put him in the starting lineup, he naturally got a little more aggressive."
It's impossible to know just how much better Russell will be in his second season. It's safe to say, though, that there will be a lot less drama surrounding him.