Nets general manager Sean Marks admits D’Angelo Russell has to become a better defender and a better leader. Whether the enigmatic young point guard actually can do so likely will determine the Nets’ rebuild — and Marks’ legacy.
“We’ve had candid conversations with D’Angelo, like we’ve had with all of our guys,’’ Marks said Tuesday. “D’Angelo knows the expectations. He has a chip on his shoulder. He knows that, defensively, he’s got to get better. But he’s got to get better at a lot of things with his all-around game.
“We all know he makes players better. He’s got a high basketball IQ. Now, how does he take that on the court here with a new group of guys he’s never played with before? And how do they develop trust together? How does Caris [LeVert] and him develop? How do Jeremy [Lin] and D’Angelo get along on the court?”
Earning — and keeping — that trust was Russell’s biggest failing in Los Angeles.
The 2015 second-overall pick, Russell irked the Lakers with his immaturity, fractured the locker room by surreptitiously recording and posting a video of Nick Young admitting to cheating on fiancée Iggy Azalea, and eventually had Magic Johnson questioning his leadership after dealing him to Brooklyn.
“I think guys enjoyed playing with me. Now I’m going to make sure they do instead of not really taking it into consideration,” Russell, 21, told ESPN last month.
In a fresh start for Russell and a golden opportunity for the Nets, Marks — whose team was an NBA-worst 20-62 last season — gladly gambled on a budding young star. But while Russell has proven he can score, now he has to show he can lead.
“The leadership, that’s in his court,’’ Marks said. “We can certainly help him get there. In the position that he plays, you’ve got to be a leader to some extent. [Coach] Kenny [Atkinson] is going to rely on that position — Jeremy or D’Angelo — a lot, both of them to direct traffic out there and so forth.”
On the subject of traffic, Marks has turned over the entire roster since arriving in February 2016, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the only holdover out of 19 current players. But Russell likley will be the one that defines Marks’ legacy, for better or worse.
“It doesn’t bother me in the slightest,’’ Marks said. “I’m not concerned about what I’m known for here. If that’s the trade that goes down as [my legacy], I’m happy. That’s no problem.
“But we’re going to be creative the whole way along here. We know we’re a long ways from where we want to get to.”
To get there, Russell has to realize his prodigious potential. The only players who have matched his per-36-minute averages for points, assists, boards and 3-point shooting through two seasons? Larry Bird, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden and Manu Ginobili.
Now it’s the Nets’ job to coax the best out of Russell, and his backcourt partnership with Lin.
“They’re two good guys that’re good players. I really believe we can make it work,’’ Atkinson said. “They’re both going to play. There’s 48 minutes out there.
“They’ve both played [shooting guard], and they both can guard the position, so it fits what we’re doing. People say it’s a pick-and-roll league, so to have another guy you can rely on to play pick-and-roll and figure out where you can find that advantage with two guys that are excellent at it, it gives us a big advantage.”