D’Angelo Russell, Lakers’ newcomers hope to hit the ground running

EL SEGUNDO — D’Angelo Russell breezed through the Lakers’ training facility on Friday morning with the air of someone more than comfortable in his new surroundings.

Why shouldn’t he? He’s been here before.

The 6-foot-4 guard (who turns 27 next week) re-introduced himself this week to the franchise that drafted him No. 2 overall out of Ohio State in 2015, only to trade him away two years later in part over concerns about leadership and maturity. Whether Russell has grown in those areas in the six years he’s been away will be key to the Lakers’ long-odds playoff hopes with 26 games remaining, but he sounded more than up for the challenge of joining the team midstream and trying to push them back to the postseason.

“I’m a grown man, now; I’m not a child,” Russell said Friday, in the first press availability of his second Lakers tenure. “I’m just excited to showcase it.”

Russell (from Minnesota) was the headline addition of the five players that the Lakers added in the 24 hours prior to the NBA trade deadline, alongside Malik Beasley (from Utah), Jarred Vanderbilt (from Utah), Davon Reed (from Denver) and Mo Bamba (from Orlando). Of the quintet, Bamba is the only one who is not expected to be available Saturday against Golden State, serving out the last installment of his four-game suspension after a scuffle with Minnesota’s Austin Rivers.

Time is of the essence. The Lakers are 25-31, as of Friday morning 2½ games out of a play-in berth (seeds 7-10) and 4½ games behind the sixth-place Phoenix Suns (who have added 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant). The Lakers have held close with the Western Conference pack all season, but they haven’t broken into it.

As big man Anthony Davis said with a pained inflection on Thursday night: “I hate to say it’s gonna take time because we don’t have time.”

But while the incoming players said they hadn’t had much time to talk about their roles yet with Coach Darvin Ham, it’s pretty straightforward how they should fit. Beasley, for example, knows he’s going to be called upon to shoot for a team that has ranked 26th (33.9%) in 3-point percentage this season.

“That was one of the first things (Ham) said, ‘I need you to shoot that ball and make some shots,’” said Beasley, a 38% career 3-point shooter. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put in the work and learn the system really fast and get adjusted to this different life and be ready to go starting tomorrow.”

It helps also that three of the incoming players – Beasley, Russell and Vanderbilt – were teammates for three seasons in Minnesota (Vanderbilt and Beasley go back five seasons to Denver and played together in Utah). Beasley said he thought the trio could bring some joy and camaraderie to a locker room that has, at times, lacked both of those things.

“We want to bring energy, that young energy and like to have fun,” he said. “Make sure all the guys are together, even the young guys and just keeping everybody together, whether that’s from LeBron all the way to the young guys. We’re right in the middle so we kind of got that vibe of being a vet but also still being young still.”

In Beasley, the Lakers see a talented, versatile shooter with 6-4 size. In Vanderbilt, they have a switchable defender who can rebound. The 7-foot Bamba offers rim protection; Reed can offer shooting in a pinch.

But of course, many eyes will be on Russell, a former member of the “young core” who could be in line for a bit of an L.A. redemption arc. The lottery pick has shuffled around from Brooklyn to Golden State to Minnesota, but in the midst of it was a 2019 All-Star and went to the playoffs with the Nets and Timberwolves.

While he never necessarily envisioned making a return to the Lakers, Russell said he’s in a better position to navigate the pressures of the franchise now than he was when he was a teenager.

“To come back with that resume, I feel like it helps the team or whatnot,” he said. “I never hoped to be back here because I didn’t understand if I could be ready for it and be a part of what they were doing for the future, because you never know what the team’s gonna look like, so it’s hard to find stability in that.

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“But I’m here now,” he added, “and I really appreciate being back, because I feel like I’m ready for everything that’s about to come for the team and whatever comes my way.”

After a current of tension before in the locker room ahead of Thursday’s deadline, the biggest bonus for the Lakers might be that they bring in a crop of players who are excited to play with LeBron James. At least three players grew up attending James’ youth camps: Russell, Vanderbilt and Reed.

Russell brimmed with enthusiasm to play alongside James’ gravity, drawing defensive attention away from him. Vanderbilt joked to Beasley that the duo got traded a little too late – the day after James set the all-time scoring record on Tuesday against Oklahoma City.

“Me and Beas joked about it, like, if they would have traded us a day earlier we would have seen it firsthand,” he said. “It’s great being able to be around greatness and seeing him day-in and day-out, see how he moves. That’s an incredible accomplishment and a testament to his work and who he is on and off the court. I’m excited to play with somebody like that.”

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