Brandon Ingram Holds Lakers' Spotlight, but D'Angelo Russell Holds the Future

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJune 24, 2016

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Brandon Ingram (Duke) walks off stage after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — This moment belongs to Brandon Ingram.

Eventually, the moment will again belong to the guy who was the Los Angeles Lakers' No. 2 overall pick only a year ago.

After repeated free-agency failures and the decline of the Kobe Bryant era, the Lakers have backed into a very interesting crew of young players whose best-case scenario is developing together.

The key to that scenario is someone to make everybody better, be a unifying force and conduct the orchestra.

Someone just like the D'Angelo Russell praised by Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak at this time a year ago: "His ability to understand the game, see the floor, make a play, display leadership characteristics…I think that's his gift."

Russell, 20, is more motivated than ever to prove himself now that most of the world knows him as a "rat" or "snitch" following his embarrassing cellphone recording of Nick Young last season.

Already, Russell is working like crazy toward next season, especially in the weight room. He's a confident kid who is well equipped to deal with adversity, having spent his entire life trying to prove himself to his big brother.

He's also openly yearning to soak up every drop of knowledge and freedom offered by new Lakers coach Luke Walton, inundating Walton with questions about the steps Stephen Curry took in the past two years.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JUNE 21: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks with Luke Walton after being introduced as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on June 21, 2016 at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Russell's insensitivity about his prank gone awry regarding Young's love life is obvious. In what has amounted to an amazing testament to the power of social media today, Russell has been stigmatized for his social transgression. Now he's trying to deflect the attention with a new lighthearted Foot Locker commercial about it.

It's easy to forget that Russell's basketball upside is comparable to Ingram's, but that's what can happen when you are marginalized by Byron Scott's tough love and overshadowed by Bryant's farewell season as a rookie.

Ingram will be expected to help immediately, yet it's going to be Russell leading the way for the team.

He has the alpha-male personality and creative passing skills that get him in and out of trouble—and let him command games in ways that Ingram, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson never will.

Ingram knows it from playing against Russell before.

"With the young guys that we have, the shooting ability and the passing ability for D'Angelo Russell, and the different things that the Lakers do, I think it's a good fit for me," Ingram said about joining the Lakers.

Count Ingram among the small circle of folks who've gotten past the Russell-Young incident. Count young Lakers teammates Randle, Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown among them, too.

The six of them sat together and bonded the night of Ingram's June 9 predraft workout with the Lakers. Knowing it was a virtual certainty that Ingram would be his pick, Kupchak shrewdly invited the five Lakers who came from the draft in the previous two years, and the soon-to-be teammates crowded around Ingram at Fleming's Steakhouse while Lakers staffers who'd already dined with Ingram the previous night stepped to the other side of the room.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

The Lakers also hope they added a true big man to that young crew Thursday in 7'0" Croatian center Ivica Zubac, 19. The team saw him as a lottery talent and pegged him to go in the top 20 before landing him at No. 32. Kupchak even privately likened Zubac to Marc Gasol.

Ingram had already impressed the Lakers front office with his seriousness about his craft (including being riveted to Game 3 of the NBA Finals on TV during the first dinner) and willingness to initiate contact on drives to the basket in his workout no matter his rail-thin physique.

The Duke forward was the unanimous choice among Lakers decision-makers as the No. 2 pick. The only question was whether the Lakers liked him even better than No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, and there was dispute on that topic—not that it mattered since the Philadelphia 76ers took Simmons.

If Ingram had more of an ego and more lust for attention, maybe the debate between him and Simmons would've been waged sooner and wound up going Ingram's way.

But Ingram, 18, wasn't as devoted to the AAU scene and showing off in front of basketball opinion-makers when he could more easily get work done alone in the gym.

Even though Ingram gave one Kobe-sounding quote when asked about being the first Laker to arrive as Bryant departs—"You kind of feel pressure, but it's a good pressure"—Ingram is not nearly as similar to Bryant in mindset as Russell is.

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 22:  Kobe Bryant #24 and D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on February 22, 2016 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Still, Ingram's 6'9" height, length and defensive potential might make him a more valuable talent than Russell.

But that's the point with these Lakers. The era of the dominant individual is past. The future—Kevin Durant daydreams aside—is going to be built on something altogether different than the Kobe Bryant past.

The Lakers are counting on free agency next month to upgrade the roster significantly and quickly.

"We'll be searching out some All-Star-caliber players," Walton said.

To have such experienced help would sure make the youngsters look a lot better a lot faster.

Even with any glittering additions, a deft, driven Russell might soon be the eye of the new Lakers, and the horizon might finally be visible.

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

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