The competitive juices usually spill out in a Lakers practice during a closely contested scrimmage. Or when the results hinge on one last play. Or when the play becomes physical.
The Lakers’ practice on Friday became what Lakers coach Byron Scott called a “nice spirited” session for different reasons. Tension has brewed this week between D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young over a secretly recorded and accidentally published video that made private tales of infidelities suddenly public. Those hostile feelings spilled out on the court.
“They were on opposite teams so everybody was going after each other,” Scott said. “That’s good. We want that in practice anyway, that competitive nature.”
The Lakers said no fights have broken out, at least not yet. Should Young unleash his frustrations on Russell with a fist or a shove, however, the Lakers’ rookie point guard contended, “I’d get physical back.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say things got to that point or it’s there yet,” Russell said. “But if it does, you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”
Russell has already dealt with plenty of consequences after secretly recording a video that showed Young admitting he saw another woman besides his fiancee, Iggy Azalea. Although the Lakers have not disciplined him internally, Russell apologized to his teammates prior to Wednesday’s win over Miami at Staples Center. Numerous former NBA players turned analysts, including Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Legler, Antonio Davis, Stephen Jackson and Olden Polynice, have all criticized Russell for making details of Young’s private life public even if it was unintentional. Polynice even added he would have punched Russell had that happened to him. Young has kept a distance from Russell and has not become open toward any efforts Russell has made to apologize.
“I’m getting over it, but if the person that it hurt the most gets over it, then I feel it’s done,” Russell said. “But until he really lets it simmer down then I think it will still be an issue.”
How much time is needed? The Lakers (16-59) enter Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics (43-32) at Staples Center with only seven games left, including a three-game trip next week. The Lakers have more investment in their long-term future in Russell than Young, who has not played the last 11 games because of overlapping healthy scratches and the team’s contention he had a stomach bug. But if the Lakers cannot trade Young this offseason, can these two players ever patch things up?
“We’re all grown men in here. People make mistakes,” Scott said. “You have to understand that and have to move on. Will they ever be buddy buddy again? I don’t know. But they do have to coexist as long as they’re both here. I think they can.”
Yet, Scott stressed he will not play any mediator role in forcing Russell and Young to diffuse any tension.
“Both guys are grown men,” Scott said. “I don’t interfere with that part of it.”
It appears Russell’s and Young’s teammates are operating the same way.
“It’s none of my business. I don’t want people in my personal life,” Randle said. “I try to stay out of it. I know how private I am in my personal life. I try to keep the focus on basketball. There has to be trust. That’s a situation between those two. I’m not going to treat anybody different. I’m going to keep the focus on basketball and carry on my normal life.”
Still, Randle admitted the situation became “a little awkward,” while Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson described the incident as “an elephant in the room.” After the video surfaced last week, Russell lost respect and trust from certain teammates, according to sources. Clarkson has since praised Russell for his apology, saying that “D’Angelo handled it the right way, looked us in the eyes of men and apologized.”
“People make mistakes. It’s one of those things we have to get over. He’ll gain his trust back from the guys,” Clarkson said. I’ve talked to both of them. Both of those guys I’m close with. I’m definitely trying to support both of them, especially D-Lo because I know it’s tough for him being  and Nick being one of my closest teammates.”
Russell and Young once could say that about each other. But not anymore.
Scott said that Russell’s “demeanor hasn’t changed” before praising him for apologizing to his teammates amid a public backdrop. After practice on Friday, Russell played with Clarkson in a two-on-two scrimmage against Lakers development coaches Thomas Scott and J.J. Outlaw. When Lakers assistant coach Larry Lewis who was winning, Russell responded, “What kind of question is that? Is the sky still blue? Is the grass still green?”
“If you put a lot of people in this city and around the media, every incident can blow up in 30 seconds. You see how many people can break and you’ve got to really have thick skin to survive in this era and this city,” Russell said. “I’m the same guy forever. I have that confidence, speak my mind, same guy. I don’t feel like anything could change that.”
Meanwhile, Scott revealed that Young has become “a whole lot quieter” before adding he feels “terrible for him it has affected him personally.” Young also declined speaking with reporters on Friday and has not addressed the issue publicly other than offering a minute-long statement before Wednesday’s game about wanting to keep the issue private.
Nonetheless, Scott stressed he has not feared any of that boiling tension resulting into an altercation.
“In our era, it would’ve been handled different,” Scott said. “We’ll leave it at that.”
Scott can only wish he can do the same thing regarding the incident itself. But Scott admitted this issue is “going to be ongoing and something that is talked about for a while” through the rest of the 2015-16 season and likely beyond.
“When trust is broken, you have to work your butt off and do everything to gain it back. Once your teammates see that, you can move past it. That’s what D’Angelo is trying to do,” Scott said. “He knows he made a mistake and is 20 years old. I don’t think there’s one person standing around here at 20 that did not make a mistake. His is just magnified because of the situation. He’s doing everything he can. It’s a slow process just like rebuilding a team. It’s a slow process and will take time. As long as he continues to do what he talks about doing and coming here and regaining his trust and doing it every single day at 110 percent. Words are just words. His actions are going to be the most important thing.”
Russell will no longer become as active, however, in seeking Young’s forgiveness.
“It’s kind of at this point where you need your space, and you can’t force peace if it’s not there,” Russell said. “You’ve got to let the time heal it.”