D’Angelo Russell launched jumpers near the conclusion of the Nets’ practice session Thursday at the HSS Training Center in Brooklyn, prepping to launch them Friday night for the first time against his old team on his old home floor — Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The Lakers gave up on the second overall pick in the 2015 draft after just two seasons. They traded the 6-5 combo guard and center Timofey Mozgov in June for center Brook Lopez and a 2017 first-round pick. Then Lakers legend Magic Johnson, their president of basketball operations, took a shot at Russell, now starting at the point for his new team.
When asked if he wants to show his old team that he’s an improved version of the player it had, Russell said, “I think I’ve gotten better over the summer. So I definitely want to go in there and showcase that. But it’s about winning basketball. [So] I think it doesn’t really matter.”
Indeed, he wants a victory to tip off a five-game western swing after three straight losses dropped the Nets to 3-5.
“Getting this first win is really important for us,” Russell said. “It’s going to be an exciting crowd about my comeback or whatever. But it’s really about winning for me. Starting off with a loss would be a tough one to stomach going into the next few games. So if we can get that first one, it would give us some intensity going into this road trip.”
Russell has erupted for at least 30 points twice in seven games. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 5.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 turnovers. He averaged 14.3 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 turnovers in his L.A. days.
The Lakers replaced Russell by making point guard Lonzo Ball the second overall pick. Johnson praised Russell’s ability after the trade, then said, “But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that makes the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
The dynamic 21-year-old Ohio State alum is still a work in progress as a leading man.
“He has room for growth there, being more vocal, whether it’s organizing us, what play we’re running,” coach Kenny Atkinson said.
The other focal point will be Lopez facing his old team after becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer across nine years.
“I’m sure he’s going to be happy to see us,” forward Trevor Booker said, “and we’re going to be happy to see him.”
The Nets will also be happy if they can start winning away from home. They’re 0-for-3.
“Looking for hurdles to overcome for this team, that’s something we need to check off, like, ‘Let’s play better on the road,’ ” Atkinson said. “I think this road trip is a great opportunity to rectify that.”
Notes & quotes: Forward/center Quincy Acy (groin) will miss his third straight game . . . Center Jarrett Allen (foot) is questionable . . . Guard Isaiah Whitehead was sent to the G League’s Long Island Nets.