LAS VEGAS — For D’Angelo Russell, it seemed like a perfectly obvious thing to do. He knew exactly what Dzanan Musa was going through – well, almost – with the life-changing whirlwind of the NBA Draft experience at 19 years old.
Russell didn’t have to move to another country to pursue his NBA dream as Musa did, but he knew a major adjustment was in the offing. So in the week after Musa became a Brooklyn Net, Russell invited him to his home to get acquainted and offer the support of an experienced teammate.
“You’ve got a European kid that comes over here that doesn’t really know anything, and New York’s a hard place to live in when you’re not from here,” said Russell. “I just wanted to kind of take him under my wing. Whatever he needs.
“He’s an exciting guy. He’s young. He’s ready to learn. He’s a sponge right now. You can tell just from communicating with him. I think the sky’s the limit with him. He’s in the gym every day too.”
The outreach to build an early rapport with the rookie is just one piece of Russell’s own acclimation to Brooklyn and his ongoing embrace of a prominent role in fostering the culture that the organization is working to build.
Another is taking the trip out here to Las Vegas to NBA Summer League to support the franchise’s summer squad. He’s been joined sitting courtside by Jeremy Lin, Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Whitehead during the Nets’ first two games, with more teammates already in town or on the way.
“I could easily be playing Summer League right now,” said the 22-year-old. “A lot of these guys are my age, trying to get the same opportunities. So if I can show my support and drop any jewels as possible with these guys, that’s my job.”
The grouping in Las Vegas is the second major offseason get-together for the team’s veterans. Back in May, most of them gathered in Los Angeles to connect and get some work in together.
“We enjoy being around each other,” said Russell. “Simple as that. Season just ended. We planned a trip to LA, just to get away and relax a little bit and work at the same time. It speaks for itself.”
When not in LA or Vegas with his teammates, Russell is most likely to be found sharing the gym with them in Brooklyn this summer. He’s not dealing with the offseason interruption of last summer’s trade to the Nets. He’s free to build on the work he’s done with the team’s coaching and performance staffs over the last year as he looks forward to year two in Brooklyn.
He had a big presence during NBA Draft week, meeting fans on the concourse and the floor at Barclays Center and participating in Steve Nash’s annual soccer showdown, with an exhibition match at the heart of an event to benefit Nash’s foundation. Russell’s a big soccer fan who’s been playing close attention to the World Cup.
“France and Belgium are the two teams that I think will make it happen,” said Russell. “They play next (in the semifinals), so I’ve got France winning that.”
While Russell is looking forward to connecting more with Musa and fellow rookie Rodions Kurucs -- “Those dudes have been battling. They’ve been playing similar seasons, a lot of games. Coming off the long seasons, they’ve been in the gym working, so I respect that about them.” – he’s also appreciated GM Sean Marks’ other recent moves.
Russell likes the fit of veteran center Ed Davis to the locker room. Though the two share an agent, Russell doesn’t know Davis well. But he respects the reputation Davis has built on and off the court. And he finds it similar to the free agent teammate the Nets will be bringing back, Joe Harris.
“I think we had to get it done and we got it done,” said Russell of the Harris agreement. “He’s a guy that you start really building a culture, he’s one of the first guys you want to start with. He’s a professional too. I watched him this year just be a professional, a complete professional on and off the court. He kind of gave me that blueprint on how to be a professional just from watching and observing.”
After averaging 15.5 points and career highs of 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds in his first season with the Nets, Russell is looking forward to spending the rest of the summer getting ready for 2018-19.
“Training, man,” said Russell. “Like I said, it’s grind time for me. I don’t really have any big things, just trying to be in the gym.”