With trade talks heating up, young Lakers want answers

NBA.com Global on Feb 05, 2019 09:36 PM
With trade talks heating up, young Lakers want answers
HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 13 : Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball against the Houston Rockets on December 13, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com

If it was LeBron James’ intention to change the mood in the Lakers’ locker room here in his first season in L.A., consider it a resounding success. The morale for a team that went 35-47 last season and missed the playoffs is indeed different.

It’s more somber.

After speaking with a number of players, their agents and other sources, the general consensus paint a picture of little joy, plenty of confusion and uncertainty, along with some anger and sense of betrayal. It’s all caused by the Lakers’ obvious and public pursuit of Anthony Davis and the players who unquestionably will be shipped out to New Orleans in exchange for the All-NBA forward if a trade happens before Thursday’s (early Friday, PHL time) deadline.

None will speak on the record but it’s obvious the Davis issue is sensitive and weighing on most of the roster, especially the young core of Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. They wonder if their days in L.A. are numbered and also wonder what, if any, role LeBron has in determining who goes and who stays.

Various reports have the Lakers offering up virtually everyone on the roster for Davis, along with multiple No. 1 picks. Clearly, the pace has changed for the Lakers. After saying last summer the Lakers are intent on building a team that will be a contender for years and not just in the short term, team president Magic Johnson’s timeline has accelerated if the proposed packages for Davis are true.

And how can they not be? New Orleans wants a combination of young players and picks for a game-changing player such as Davis. The Lakers own no other assets.

In the meantime, the Lakers, currently on a road trip, are dealing with turbulence and not necessarily while thousands of feet in the air. Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee had a verbal post-game exchange with coach Luke Walton two nights ago in Oakland after a loss to the Warriors, and although it wasn’t sparked by the Davis issue directly, the trade rumors are causing stress and perhaps pushing tempers as well.

In the center of it all is LeBron.

Davis has been represented since last fall by Klutch Sports, the agency created by LeBron and run by his business partner and close friend, Rich Paul. The LeBron link to a player agency has caused a degree of concern among other NBA general managers, who wonder if there’s a conflict of interest and if it’s a good look for the league.

It also has rival agents suspecting that LeBron is involved in talks for Davis and at the very least serving as a sounding board for Magic and Laker executive Rob Pelinka. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Lakers to get LeBron’s hot take on this or any major decision involving personnel; that’s a perk enjoyed by a number of star players throughout the NBA, and has been for years.

But: Following the Lakers’ victory over the Clippers last week when LeBron made his return after missing 17 games with a groin injury, he repeatedly expressed how thrilled he was to be back on the floor with "my guys” and that didn’t sit well with some of his teammates, according to their agents.

Essentially, they’re not sure where they stand with LeBron in the Davis situation. And the young players appear too intimidated to confront LeBron and get clarity.

There’s another issue at play here: Are the Lakers planning to surrender too much for Davis by gutting the team?

If the Lakers are willing to part with their young core and at least two veterans to make the salaries match, who’s left to make them competitive with Davis and LeBron?

The Pelicans, according to league sources, are insisting that any team wanting Davis must also take guard E’Twaun Moore and his contract in return. This will allow the Pelicans to get young players, multiple picks and salary cap flexibility in a single transaction. In a sense, Davis is indeed a franchise player — trading him might allow the Pelicans to remake their entire franchise.

Davis reportedly gave the Pelicans other teams on a wish-list, yet those teams’ options appear limited. One is the Bucks, who lack promising young players, and given that Milwaukee is leading the East, their first-round pick won’t be attractive. Another is the Knicks, who won’t have defined assets until after the draft lottery in May when their place in the June draft will be revealed.

If the Pelicans decide to wait until summer, that means they believe there’s a better deal waiting after the draft and free agency. That places urgency on the Lakers to get something done before Thursday.

One way or another, whether he comes to the Lakers or stays in New Orleans at least for the next five months, Davis will bring some relief and help clear the air to a Lakers team that desperately needs it.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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