LOS ANGELES — It's not surprising to anyone who really knows these Los Angeles Lakers that D'Angelo Russell did something immature and thought he was above getting called on it—or that Nick Young was involved in a juvenile back-and-forth prank that saw his deep-seated celebrity ambitions leading him astray.
It'll be up to Russell and Young whether it's a learning experience for the future or just a colossal embarrassment for today.
As crazy as this whole story regarding Russell, Young and locker room etiquette is, the understandable part is how the main characters are flawed in just the ways for which they are taking falls right now.
Russell recorded Young about three months ago, according to team sources, in what he thought would be part of an atmosphere of ongoing joking between them. It turned into a major Snapchat snafu, sources said, with Russell thinking he could privately post video of Young without his knowledge, talking about women, and take it down without those few people he shared it with recording it—or anyone ever publicizing it.
He—and Young—are learning the hard way how dangerous a game it is to mess around in this social media world with stuff that matters. There can be epic ramifications when the topic matters as much as it does to Young and fiancee Iggy Azalea and matters as much as it does to a public that loves lurid details of athlete missteps.
Russell recently turned 20, and his alpha-male, self-assured personality is a core reason the Lakers believe he can be a strong leader for the organization…someday.
His confidence, skill level and work ethic are all countered for now by playfulness not uncommon for his age and ego that makes him more likely to err on the side of arrogance than carefulness.
The Lakers are not happy that Russell has cast the franchise in this light now—and there are those in the organization fearful that he has made himself another hurdle to be overcome in the franchise's effort to add much-needed, proven free-agent talent. But the club is not about to give up on him over this: a foolish, ill-conceived undertaking that was at least not malicious in intent.
The Lakers believe in Russell's talent and hope he learns a lesson the hard way about needing to be more professional. Russell has been glad to have another young teammate to experience off-the-court life with him in 23-year-old Jordan Clarkson, who got embroiled in his own controversy earlier this month—riding in the car with Young, actually.
Young and Clarkson were accused of making inappropriate gestures toward a 68-year-old woman while driving in Hollywood. There were conflicting interpretations of their actions, but what Lakers sources unequivocally confirm is that Young and Clarkson were goofing around.
Young believed he was being wronged then—and surely must now.
Yet the areas where you devote your energy are the directions your life goes.
Young, a Los Angeles native, loves being part of the entertainment machine that is the Lakers—one that produced high-profile relationships for non-star players such as Sasha Vujacic (tennis player Maria Sharapova), Lamar Odom (reality TV star Khloe Kardashian) and Shannon Brown (singer Monica).
The self-decreed Swaggy P got engaged to rap star Azalea last year and has reveled in that ongoing spotlight, even as he has played miserable basketball this season.
Young is a sweet-hearted person whose desire to live life lightly has helped bring fun to the team in recent down years. But as Young's game has fizzled, the Lakers have been increasingly frustrated by a 30-year-old adding to the lack of professionalism in their youthful locker room.
Young has two more full years left on his contract (the second being a player option) and has been anxious any time his name has come up in recent trade talks because he doesn't want his Lakers life to end. If the Lakers can unload Young this offseason to help put this incident with Russell behind them, though, it's the most likely result, as hurtful as that would be to Young.
As much as Russell deserves blame for his involvement, Young has to be honest with himself: He wants to be the biggest celebrity he can be and is engaged to an undeniably huge celebrity, so it isn't a stunner that people might be interested in broadcasting if he cheats.
Azalea's tweet showing appreciation for being given this information about Young suggests their relationship is in peril, and that's why those within the team are aghast at what Russell has done to Young, even if inadvertently.
There is an understanding within the team that Russell and Young will deal with it between the two of them; Russell is expected to address reporters Wednesday evening before the Lakers play the Miami Heat in L.A. and express his regrets.
hmmm i see D Angelo Russell is trending... I actually liked his film. Thanks bro.— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) March 30, 2016
If it feels like some of these story arcs have been done before in Lakerland, of course, there is some similarity between Russell and Kobe Bryant's self-belief (and skill level and work ethic—albeit certainly not to Bryant's extent).
Bryant experienced massive fallout from his infidelity, and it was a product of the 2003 sexual assault accusation against him that he brought up Shaquille O'Neal's private relations, according to the police report.
Bryant also was caught on amateur video in 2007—well before social media took off—muttering profanely in a shopping center parking lot about how the Lakers should've traded Andrew Bynum.
The Lakers were willing to accept aspects of Bryant's strong personality given his incredible productivity.
And as listlessly as Russell played Monday night in the Lakers' 48-point loss in Utah, he was still the one who hit a late three-pointer to prevent it from going down as the single-most lopsided defeat in Lakers history.
When asked if this situation coming to light has humbled Russell, one Lakers source laughed and said: "That would take a lot."
Russell is, however, undeniably learning lessons that we all can take something from and use as a teaching point for kids younger than Russell: Everything can matter in this social media-crazed world.
And some jokes don't turn out funny at all.