This D’Angelo Russell thing is really confusing, so I want to make sure I’ve got it right.
Pledging your lifetime love, support and fidelity to a woman in the form of a highly public engagement, then displaying your unequivocal callousness for that woman’s dignity and feelings by cheating on her while your wedding is being planned, that’s OK, right?
But secretly recording a teammate who talks about this callous behavior as if it is the equivalent of brushing your teeth, that’s not OK, right?
Look, I’m older than Russell and Nick Young combined. I have no idea what it’s like to be as good at something as they are at basketball, or to make more money than I could possibly spend, or to have gorgeous, talented and famous women inexplicably interested in me, or to work a full-time job that requires a maximum of two to four hours a day of commitment, or even to have my dirty socks picked up and washed by someone else.
But you don’t have to be talented or rich or good-looking to either develop or deliver emotional scars. They come from a lack of basic decency and respect for your fellow man or woman, and both Russell and Young are guilty of that.
It seems like Young is getting a pass here, and he shouldn’t. His obvious misstep is being swept under the rug by the talking heads, many of whom spent a large chunk of their lives within the clandestine cover of locker rooms, where “boys will be boys.” I would like to know how many of these talking heads would actually give a pass to their girlfriend, fiancee or wife for cheating on them.
So instead, the moral hammer comes down almost exclusively on Russell, who shouldn’t get a pass, either. Perhaps we all should have taken Lakers coach Byron Scott a bit more at his word when he spoke of Russell’s immaturity, because it is difficult to get better at any craft when you don’t take it seriously. And you have to wonder about someone’s dedication to their craft when they gravitate toward Young, who has been the class clown for his entire career.
In college, Russell’s uniform number was 0, because “zero people can guard me,” he said. He had to give it up with the Lakers, however, because it was taken – by Young, of course. Russell now wears 1, apparently because that is his level of maturity on a scale of 1 to 10.
Russell is lucky that he makes his living in the NBA, where talent affords you second and third chances not available in most lines of work. Had he been a 19-year-old working at Best Buy or Chipotle and put a secretly recorded video compromising a co-worker on the internet, he probably would have been fired.
But Russell gets to keep his job. The question now becomes whether the Lakers want to keep him.
It is quite possible that everyone is able to move on from this inane incident. Russell learns harsh lessons about the concepts of maturity, professionalism and being a teammate. The Lakers chalk up his behavior to childishness and put a better mentoring mechanism in place. Didn’t teammates Jason Kidd and Jimmy Jackson have a falling out over Toni Braxton as NBA newbies in Dallas?
But it is also possible that the Lakers consider Russell’s presence too toxic for the championship culture they are trying to rebuild. With the second overall pick, GM Mitch Kupchak may have thought he was getting Kevin Durant or LaMarcus Aldridge and instead got Michael Beasley. Along with securing another young stud in the draft and convincing free agents that the Lakers are still a glamorous destination, perhaps moving Russell is also on Kupchak’s to-do list this summer.
How about Philadelphia? The 76ers need help everywhere, particularly in their backcourt, which “boasts” Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, Nik Stauskas and Kendall Marshall. At the same time, GM Sam Hinkie has assembled a glut of young big men in Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid. With Eurostash stretch-4 Dario Saric and likely three first-round picks on the way, it might make sense to loosen the logjam in the frontcourt and start building the backcourt.
Perhaps a straight-up swap of Russell for Okafor. Our problem for your problem. Fresh starts for everyone involved – before they turn into the next Nick Young.
On to the rankings.
1. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, C, MINNESOTA: He won’t be a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year because Kristaps Porzingis will snag a first-place vote or three. But the “Big KAT” has been the best rookie by far. For the season, he is averaging 18.3 points and 10.7 rebounds; Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are the only other players above those thresholds. And in March, Towns averaged 21.9 points and 10.5 rebounds with 12 double-doubles in 15 games. He is extending his range out to the arc, with five makes in his last 11 attempts. Scary. LAST RANKING: 1
2. DEVIN BOOKER, G, PHOENIX: It’s hard not to like this young man, who has been the anti-D’Angelo for much of the season. He began the season riding the bench but was elevated through hard work and good fortune rather than entitlement. He averaged 22.4 points and 4.9 assists in March, even though his usually reliable perimeter shot disappeared (.284 from deep). He meets the media after every game and does so graciously, often speaking about what he did poorly rather than what he did well. And he doesn’t turn 20 until October. LAST RANKING: 3
3. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, F-C, NEW YORK: “The Unicorn” wasn’t bad in March, he just wasn’t as good as he had been earlier this season. Porzingis still averaged 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for the month. But he was definitely playing hurt; he sat out three games with a variety of ailments. And the long season may be wearing him down; his consecutive double-doubles last week against Chicago were his first since the All-Star break. Still, the Zinger could finish a solid second in the Rookie of the Year voting, given the amount of publicity he has received. LAST RANKING: 2
4. EMMANUEL MUDIAY, G, DENVER: Welcome back. The Nuggets were 9-8 in March – by far their best month of the season – and Mudiay’s play was a big reason why. He averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds, and while his shooting was still below 40 percent overall, he was a solid 39 percent (28-of-72) from the arc and kept his turnovers (2.4) at an acceptable rate. Consistency remains a bit of an issue; he followed his 27 points, 11 rebounds and buzzer-beater vs. Philly with a combined 13 points on 5-of-23 shooting in two games at Staples Center. But he’s getting there. LAST RANKING: NR
5. JOSH RICHARDSON, G, MIAMI: He hasn’t had anywhere near the complete season other rookies have had, but very few of his classmates are doing more for their teams right now. Before his 0-of-8 in Wednesday’s road loss to the Lakers, Richardson had averaged 15.1 points on 61 percent (56-of-92) from the field overall – including a blistering 65 percent (28-of-43) from the arc – in his last 10 games. The Heat have needed 3-point shooting all season, and now they are getting it from an unlikely source in Richardson, who is going to play in the playoffs. LAST RANKING: NR
DROPOUTS: D’Angelo Russell, G, LA Lakers (4); Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia (5).
FIVE TO WATCH: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Sacramento; Frank Kaminsky, F-C, Charlotte; Trey Lyles, F, Utah; Norman Powell, F, Toronto; Myles Turner, F, Indiana.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Mondays, and his Rookie Rankings on Fridays. Usually. Follow him on Twitter.