Done Loading: D’Angelo Russell’s journey from ‘bust’ to Brooklyn Nets’ all-star leader

Brooklyn Nets. D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets. D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

For every great player there often comes a better story and for the Brooklyn Nets’ newly named all-star D’Angelo Russell, the story starts way worse than it will end. So, how did Russell go from trade bait to all-star?

The Brooklyn Nets are the only team in New York who have an all-star NBA player this year and that is because of D’Angelo Russell.

Russell will be representing the East as a reserve in the all-star game in Charlotte. Granted he was one of the last players to be named to the game, just getting there is special enough.

First off, this first point is not even about Russell. For the Brooklyn Nets, who have spent a large portion of the last decade as a complete joke, to have a player emerge as an all-star says a lot of how unique Russell’s rise has been.

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Ever since Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks took over, took over the head coach and general manager job respectively, the Nets had next to nothing to give them.

They essentially took over lost or aging talent and no draft capital. They knew they would be having their work cut out for them. The losing needed to be had.

Then, things changed.

They needed to give a player development coach a player or two to develop or it wouldn’t have worked. Kenny Atkinson is big on working with nothing, he has made all of what he has, but there is more to it.

D’Angelo Russell is not a direct product of Kenny Atkinson. And when Russell came from the almighty Lakers franchise in June of 2017, Russell was a talented player just with no direction.

He completely filled the “needed a change of scenery” cliché. There was doubt of what Russell’s role would be with the newly drafted Brandon Ingram and eventually. Lonzo Ball, who the Lakers essentially preferred drafting over keeping Russell.

So, it had to be done. The Nets needed to get a budding star for Kenny Atkinson and Russell needed a fresh start, just a mere blink of an eye after getting drafted number two overall.

He needed the coach that would help un-tap his potential. Unleash the skill he always had, even dating back to his days at Ohio State when he was one of the best players in the country, an all-American player.

Needing a coach to help him un-tap his skill, he found that in Kenny Atkinson. That is perhaps the first step in this journey, but it is at least the most integral.

Then, he had this much, the Nets were getting a guy they probably could have had a chance at drafting had they not traded all those picks away in the Kevin Garnett trade.

At least, someone like Russell. A young player of his skill to the Nets, he was just was drafted by the wrong team.

But, everything was put on hold for a while.

Russell spent much of last season, his first season with the Nets injury riddled.

The Nets still couldn’t get out of their own way finishing with a 28-54 record. This year so far, the Nets have already matched that total.

Much like D’Angelo Russell has already played in more games this year (53) than he played in all of last year (48).

It is no coincidence that Russell has played more as the Nets have gotten better, he is a piece to the puzzle.

But, this great season from both the Nets and Russell can go back to even the summer league when Russell could have been seen on the Nets’ bench and supporting them and getting ready to cheer them on and ready for the regular season.

This has all started with brilliant and methodical confidence to make sure Russell was a leader for this team, even at just four years into his career he is one of the most experienced players on the team.

Now, through all the tumultuous situations he has been in up to this point in his career, he finds himself going to the all-star game. The first Net to do so since Joe Johnson in 2013-2014.

This success is not only well-earned but the result of a match made in heaven.

Here is what Kenny Atkinson had to say about his relationship with Russell, via Tom Dowd of

"“I don’t think as a staff we’ve coached a guy harder than we’ve coached D’Angelo.We’re on him. Film, he has really taken it like a man, and accepted the bad with the good. That’s a real credit to his maturity. He made it a statement when he first arrived here, and I told him, ‘now, let’s keep going, because we’re going to keep coaching you hard and I’ll keep holding you responsible.’ With talent comes responsibility, they say.”"

For Russell, whose name on social media is “Dloading:, this has taken on a whole new meeting. The Brooklyn Nets are a great story, but might even be a better team.

When a team like the Nets emerges out of nowhere to be one of the top six teams in the East, it is almost always the direct result of a player emerging as a star.

That has what Russell has done. He is not only the best player on the Nets, he is also becoming one of the best point guards in the East. He has done his job this season perfectly.

He has made his coaches and teammates look better as a team as a result of it too.

And as much as Russell needed to depart from Los Angeles’ biggest team, he needed New York’s smallest team to pick him up and make it work.

Had it not been for his journey, and had it not been for his need to be with the right coach, maybe the only coach who could get the skill he has out of him, the Nets would be much worse off.

They could have moved on from Kenny Atkinson by now. They could have been out of the playoff race already. Who knows what they would have done the last two years in terms of trades and free agency had they not shown interest in Russell.

According to Google, an all-star is defined as “composed wholly of outstanding performers or players.”

Russell’s performance has been outstanding. He has the Nets in a spot they were supposed to be years away from. But, what is also outstanding is his story.

He was inevitably supposed to end up as an elite NBA player and an “all-star” It just took him a very indirect way to do it.

D’Angelo Russell needed Brooklyn and Brooklyn needed Russell. Now, the NBA all-star needs a player like Russell for it to matter. If Russell wasn’t considered an “outstanding performer” then they should have canceled the event.

D’Angelo Russell’s story went from what looked like was poised to be more like that of Hasheem Thabeet‘s, as an astronomical bust.

But now, it is turning more like into that of Jason Kidd‘s, stuff of legend.

All three players were number two overall picks.

Maybe the direct correlation is the Nets’ organization to max out the talents of point guards who came from other teams. But in reality, there is no correlation. It was just his destiny to be where he is.

Is D’Angelo Russell “done loading?” no. He is just beginning. But, the hard part is over. He has silenced any haters and has become an all-star player.

He has become the poster boy of what the Brooklyn Nets are all about. He proved why people should want to come to the Nets.

Next. The inevitable rise of Nico Hischier from top prospect to Devils' gritty leader. dark

It’s D’Angelo Russell the all-star to us now. The best part is, he is still only 22 years old and far from empty.