The words sounded pleasant to D’Angelo Russell’s ears as Lakers coach Luke Walton spoke about incorporating an up-tempo offense. Russell’s eyes lit up when Walton explained how creating a fun atmosphere can make the development process both more joyful and productive.
As Russell watched Walton’s introductory press conference with intense interest on Tuesday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, the Lakers’ second-year guard showed his affection for the team’s new direction in another way. Russell stood close to Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw. Russell then often made several undisclosed observations to Shaw, while Walton outlined his vision for bolstering the Lakers after finishing with their worst record in franchise history in consecutive seasons under Byron Scott.
Shaw did not detail what those conversations entailed. But it illustrated the potential of Russell and perhaps his other young teammates forming a close bond with Russell.
“What you do is you try to keep the problems or anything going on away from the head coach,” Shaw told Southern California News Group. “Then he can concentrate on coaching. You intercept a lot of things in place and try to keep things in order. When Luke needs to say what he needs to say and does he needs to do, everything goes smoothly.”
Things hardly went smoothly for Shaw through 1 1/2 seasons as the Denver Nuggets’ head coach. The Nuggets fired him following a 58-85 record amid reported criticism on his ability to get players to buy into his concepts. Yet, Shaw established a much stronger reputation as the Indiana Pacers associate coach (2011-2013) and a Lakers assistant coach under Phil Jackson (2005-11).
Shaw struck strong relationships with Indiana’s star player (Paul George) and formerly eccentric forward (Lance Stephenson). During two NBA title runs with the Lakers (2009-10), Shaw also remained close with several players including Kobe Bryant and Luke Walton. That explained the strong frustration within the Lakers locker room when the franchise hired Mike Brown instead of Shaw to replace a retiring Jackson.
Shaw said he and Walton have not ironed out specific job descriptions since he had obligations as Golden State’s assistant coach until the Warriors’ NBA playoff run eventually ended on Sunday with a Game 7 loss to Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals. Shortly after the Lakers and Walton agreed to terms in late April, Walton added Shaw as his lead assistant nearly three weeks later.
Since then, Shaw has visited the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo for an initial glimpse of the Lakers’ young roster in voluntary workouts.
“It’s a young group that I think is very talented,” Shaw said. “I don’t know much about their work ethic. I haven’t been around them that much. But in the short time I’ve been around, it’s been impressive. They’ve been in here consistently when they’ve been in town and are putting in work.”
Shaw also reported positive impressions with Duke forward Brandon Ingram, who will likely be the Lakers’ No. 2 pick. Though Shaw described Ingram as a “very slight build” because of his listed 6-7, 190-pound frame, Shaw liked how Ingram conducted himself when he dined with the Lakers’ basketball operations and coaching staff.
“Nice, young kid,” Shaw said of the 18-year-old Ingram. “I was left with a good impression. He was very well mannered and he was respectful.”
As for Ingram’s rail-thin frame, it appears he carried his quest to bulk up at the dinner table.
“He’s trying to fill it up,” Shaw said, chuckling. “But at that age, it’s hard to keep it on.”