Laker Kids Randle, Russell Pushing Too Hard in Eagerness to Be Great

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJuly 14, 2015

David Dow/AP Images

LAS VEGAS — If there was any doubt that Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell sensed the excitement over them from all around the Los Angeles Lakers and their fanbase, listen to them articulate the pressure and disappointment they felt Monday night.

Randle: "Everything starts with me. I've got to be better. End of story."

Russell: "Every game matters to me. And me being competitive, I forget it's just summer league. I'm trying to get better so fast instead of being patient and letting it come to me."

John Locher/Associated Press

The Lakers whiffed on marquee free agents again and remain unclear on what level of health or excellence can be expected from Kobe Bryant's presumed final season, so there is a level of uneasiness, of course.

What has been interesting, though, is that the lack of proven commodities has forced the Lakers to accept the reality of rebuilding: Invest in young talent.

Massive crowds—which forced the opening of the curtained-off upper deck at the Thomas & Mack Center—have been hugely enthusiastic to watch the Laker kids' first three games in the NBA Summer League. (On Sunday, when the Lakers didn't play, everything at the venue turned quiet and minor-league, as if the circus had left town but the sideshow acts remained.)

There is something special happening for Lakers fans with the pure hope of homegrown youngsters becoming winning Lakers after quick-fix, sure-thing imports Dwight Howard and Steve Nash proved to be such ill fits.

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Julius Randle's drive to succeed hasn't translated to on-court success in Vegas.
Julius Randle's drive to succeed hasn't translated to on-court success in Vegas.John Locher/Associated Press

This uncharted territory requires Randle, 20, and Russell, 19, to prove themselves worthy explorers. Before they can become Kareem and Magic or Shaq and Kobe, they must be Lewis and Clark. They need to find a path through the rugged Western Conference and establish safety and success on their own.

They know what is expected of them, and they welcome the challenge. But for now, that challenge comes with pressure that is making it harder for them to shine in summer league.

The nature of these games, with thrown-together rosters and little practice time, makes spacing and teamwork hard to find. But Randle is over-dribbling and Russell is over-passing as they overdo their efforts to succeed.

John Locher/Associated Press

Randle is frustrated by his rust and being limited to five-minute runs each quarter (besides having to sit out the game Saturday). He describes his health as "amazing." However, when he gets his chances on the court, he's rushing everything on offense and forgetting to bring energy on defense.

Russell doesn't know the offense well yet, and he simply isn't designed to accept having limited influence, so he's forcing bad plays and piling up turnovers.

Their frowns show their disappointment. But we can detect more if we look deeper.

To steal a message from the movie Inside Out, sadness for Randle and Russell isn't all bad. Behind it, we can also see how deeply they care. And that reflects their pursuit of excellence.

"He wants to be great," Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen said of Russell. "And he will be great."

Asked his expectations for the coming campaign after basically missing his entire rookie season with a broken leg, Randle said: "Nothing short of great." He said the same goes for the Lakers at all times, and he scoffed at the idea that it might be surprising how much interest there currently is in the Laker kids.

"When you're a Laker and you're anywhere in the world, there's going to be attention," Randle said.

Jeanie Buss and the Lakers have been wise and diligent in perpetuating the power of the brand. The Lakers come to Vegas every preseason to play for these fans, same as they do in Ontario, Anaheim and San Diego to cast a wide regional net. They're headed back to Honolulu to hold training camp in front of those fans this year.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 10: Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers during NBA Summer League against the Minnesota Timberwolves on July 10, 2012 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
David Dow/Getty Images

And even though the undeniable summer narrative is that franchise fame isn't enough to win free agency, some perks remain real.

Russell spent his day off in Vegas on Sunday doing a long shoot with Turner Sports' style guru Lance Fresh, and they hit it off so well that Russell tacked on a dinner meeting.

Russell's day wasn't done, however, as he moved on to film After Dark with Rick Fox for NBA TV. That session at a driving range also ran long because Russell, who has hit golf balls like three times in his life, was so determined to prove he could make good contact.

Randle has made the rounds, too. He was mic'd up for the NBA's video outlets during the game Monday night, when his freight-train drives toward the hoop down the stretch made the 76-66 loss to the New York Knicks interesting. He sat down Saturday for a series of interviews with Bleacher Report, including this one in which he declared himself "a year wiser (and) probably even more confident."

Randle and Russell are so eager to prove their worth and bring joy to the Lakers that they're the ones forgetting that this is a rebuild that is supposed to take time.

Deep down, Randle knows that.

"This is just a start," he told reporters and himself after the loss to the Knicks. Then he pursed his lips and added: "It's frustrating, but like anything else, I'll work through it."

Randle and Russell can only do so much right now.

Those skilled left hands certainly can't raise any banners yet.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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