D’Angelo Russell made enormous strides with the Brooklyn Nets last season, averaging career-highs in points (21.1), assists (7.0), rebounds (3.9), threes (2.9), field-goal percentage (.434) and three-point percentage (.369). The 23-year-old became an All-Star for the first time and made his playoff debut. However, the Nets decided to move Russell after adding free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Now, Russell joins the Golden State Warriors – his third team in five years – as part of the sign-and-trade that landed Durant in Brooklyn. HoopsHype caught up with Russell to discuss his change of scenery, the Warriors’ loaded backcourt, the opportunity to play for Steve Kerr, his offseason training, his new campaign with Foot Locker and more.
You’re joining a Warriors team that has been to five straight NBA Finals. How did that come together and what factors led to you choosing to do the sign-and-trade with Golden State?
D’Angelo Russell: It was a really exciting offseason for a lot of teams and players. A lot of pieces moved in certain ways that forced other pieces to move too. I was just one of those pieces that was trying to find a place to call home. I’m excited [to join the Warriors]. I’m beyond excited! They’ve been to five straight Finals and they do nothing but win. That’s something that I’m trying to add to my resume in this league; [I want to] become a winner. I think this is the first step, going to a team of that caliber. I think it’ll work out pretty great too. They have some great coaches and great players to kind of make it all work. I’m ready to get the wheels turning.
A backcourt of you, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (once healthy) is pretty insane to think about – three All-Stars who can drop 40 any given night. How excited are you to play with those guys?
DR: I think it’s like a video game. You got three guys who can shoot the three at a high clip. I think that’s really exciting for the fans. Threes are obviously worth more than twos at the end of the day, so I think it gives us an opportunity to win. I’m so excited, and I think we’re going to bring a lot of excitement [to the fans].
Steph Curry is a two-time MVP and one of the best point guards in NBA history. How much can you learn from him and are you looking forward to picking his brain?
DR: I think this situation gives me an opportunity to be a sponge. I can learn a lot from everyone: a Hall of Fame coach – one of the winningest coaches ever – and from three different players who are Hall of Famers. It’s cool, man. This is a Hall of Fame organization that I get to a part of.
With you, Steph, Klay, Draymond Green and others, this team still has so much talent, but it feels like everyone is talking about the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and others when they mention contenders. It’s weird to say about this star-studded team, but do you feel like the Warriors are flying under the radar a bit?
DR: I know a lot of moves were made this offseason, which brings a lot of hype. A lot of teams made big jumps and got way better than they were in the previous year. Because of that, I think there are a lot of teams flying under the radar, to be honest. But when we’re halfway through the season, we’ll see how everyone looks and which teams are clicking.
Are you expecting to play off-ball more since you’ll be sharing the backcourt with Steph at times?
DR: The league has changed in so many ways. There are no point guards anymore, there are no centers anymore; it’s all positionless basketball. I think [we have] a lot of players out there who will just allow [me] to be a basketball player – not having to focus on running the team or being the defensive [anchor] or whatever. There are so many great talents out there that will just allow me to be a basketball player. It’s a situation where I can go in and not worry about being on-the-ball or off-ball or coming off the bench or whatever. I am just being a basketball player. If I have the ball in my hands, I’ll make a play. If don’t, I’ll try to get in position to make a play. I think that’s what it comes down to.
It seems like your skill set fits perfectly with the way the NBA has evolved.
DR: Yeah, for sure. Like I said, the game has changed so much. And the more versatile you can be, the more you can thrive out there – on offense and on defense.
Steve Kerr is a phenomenal coach who connects with his players and gets the most out of them. What’s been your first impression of Coach Kerr and have you guys talked about how he’s going to utilize you?
DR: I’ve had small conversations with him, but nothing too major so far. We haven’t communicated about how he plans to use me. But he brings out the best in his players and puts them in roles where they can [be themselves]. I’m really excited about that. I think that’s what the league is about: opportunity. He’s a coach who allows you to do what you do best.
Last year, you became an All-Star and put up impressive numbers with the Nets. What was the key to you breaking out and taking that next step in your development last year?
DR: It was all about having that opportunity. I had the opportunity to be me on the court. I give a lot of credit to the [Nets’] coaching staff for allowing me to be me and to really thrive. I really appreciate that opportunity.
What specific aspects of your game are you focused on improving this offseason?
DR: I think ball-handling is something you can always get better at, so I’m trying to turn that up a notch. Also, I’m just trying to keep my body in the best possible shape it can be in.
You’re still just 23 years old and even after becoming an All-Star, it seems like you still have untapped potential. How much more room for improvement do you feel you still have?
DR: I think the sky is the limit. Like you said, I’m still a young player in the league and I’m still trying to find my way. I’m just trying to continue to get better day by day.
You’ve now changed teams twice, despite playing really well in each stint. Given your experiences, how much have you learned about the business side of the NBA?
DR: Oh man, I’m getting to see a lot of different parts of it. Throughout my free agency, I got to see part of it. I’m looking forward to seeing more. I think it’s something you have to learn as a player and something you have to go through… I only know what I know. I guess I don’t know what a “normal” free agency is. I just know we got the deal done.
You teamed up with Foot Locker on their “We Live Sneakers” campaign to promote the store’s exclusive “Evolution of The Swoosh” collection, which honors the history of Nike’s logo. Do you consider yourself a sneakerhead and how did this come together?
DR: I’m super excited. I’ve become a sneakerhead throughout my time in the NBA, so it’s great to be part of Foot Locker’s collab with Nike. I think the “Evolution of The Swoosh” collection is definitely necessary. Nike has been around for a long time and it’s good to appreciate [the brand’s history]. I’m excited to be involved with it.
Foot Locker is super creative. I give them a lot of credit because they get really creative with their collabs and they have a lot of great ideas. I’ve really enjoyed working with them. It’s been a lot of fun over the last few years.
The “Evolution of The Swoosh” collection has three releases celebrating how the swoosh has changed over the years. What are some of your all-time favorite Nike sneakers?
DR: I really enjoy the different Air Max’s. I really like the Air Max Fly’s. I love that they started going with the bubble and keeping the sneakers comfortable. That’s when I really started gravitating to those shoes. I enjoy Jordan’s as well. I’m just a big Nike fan in general.