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Lakers hope Russell points franchise in right direction

L.A. goes with versatile guard at No. 2 over center Okafor

POSTED: Jun 26, 2015 10:39 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


All AXEcess Interview: D'Angelo Russell

Jared Greenberg talks with D'Angelo Russell after the Lakers make him the second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

— D'Angelo Russell went from the holding area in front of the stage to the podium, from shaking hands with commissioner Adam Silver to a series of TV and radio interviews on the floor of Barclays Center.

Then he went from the media circuit to a tunnel leading under the stands to a group press conference and another round of conversations with reporters. But he would not take off the baseball cap. Adjust it, yes. Remove it, no.

"Why would I?" Russell said. "Why would I?"

The wardrobe mattered. His suit was a tribute to Ohio State and his successful one-and-done there -- shades of scarlet and grey everywhere, down to the red shoes, red bow tie and silver pocket square. The hat was about his future, the gold top, the white bill, with the familiar italics of LAKERS across the back.

That was Thursday night. Russell cried tears of joy after learning he was going to Los Angeles as the No. 2 pick and literally wore his emotions, stoked by the same confidence that led the gifted point guard to declare himself the best player in the draft six weeks before.

College Highlights: D'Angelo Russell

Watch some highlights and see why D'Angelo Russell has been rated as a NBA draft prospect.

Then, during the pre-draft combine in Chicago, before the lottery order had been set, it was about himself. Now, once the Timberwolves predictably selected Karl-Anthony Towns at No. 1 and the Lakers made the difficult but correct decision of Russell over Jahlil Okafor, it was about them.

Kobe Bryant and the plan to squeeze a final run out of his career. Julius Randle, the 2014 lottery pick coming back from injury. Byron Scott, under fire as coach. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, back on the firing line, as if there's anywhere else they could be, for the selection that will be scrutinized.

The worst is over. The Lakers are headed back to championship form.

So said the 19 year old with the hat.

"Definitely," Russell told "With Kobe, you don't know how much he has left in the tank. But just him by himself, he really knows what it takes. For him to have a group of young guys that's willing and hungry to win, the sky's the limit."

These are the new Lakers, still undergoing serious reconstruction but with more hope for the future than anytime in the last two or three years. And that's just with the roster of the moment, with Randle and Russell as the inside-outside foundation and maybe Jordan Clarkson continuing to lap expectations.

Make a big score in free agency or trade market. But even if July isn't as good as June, the Lakers still have important forward progress because Russell is the special combination of scoring threat with a shooting guard's game, 41.1 percent on three-pointers while taking 6.6 shots a game behind the arc, merged with a point guard's ability to distribute.

"I think the best thing he does is pass, so you can put him at point guard if you want," one general manager said last month. "Great passer.... Elite."

Okafor, the Duke center, would have delivered the best low-post scoring threat, but also the potential traffic jam on offense playing near another isolation player at power forward in Randle. Opponents would have had an easier time defending that lineup.

Choosing Russell is more balance for the offense and removed the worry about whether Okafor as a lottery pick would have better conditioning than at Duke. No one will have to make sure Russell is working to keep himself in shape.

"I know with Kobe on the team, you never know what to expect," Russell said. "He knows how to win and I'm a guy that has a winning spirit, a winning, competitive nature. I'm just ready to really take it upon myself to join him."

In pushing the Lakers to a special place, that is. By winning a ring.

That would be another wardrobe statement.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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