Teams that are losing a lot often have tense locker rooms.
Veteran players on one-year contracts who see their roles shrink don’t like it.
Teams that bring in a bunch of players with big personalities often have locker-room issues.
Players don’t like hearing their names in trade rumors.
Meet your 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James. He sat out Saturday against the Warriors feeling “pretty sore” after playing 40 minutes into overtime Thursday night against the Clippers. The Lakers promptly lost to the Warriors 115-101.
After the game, Laker coach Luke Walton called out some of the Lakers for their selfish play and a couple of them — JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley in particular — pushed back on Walton, leading to a locker room dust-up where others stepped between the two sides to make sure things didn’t escalate, according to reports. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin had a great description of what went down.
Sources told ESPN that Walton criticized veterans for contributing to the Lakers’ downfall by not playing a team game and making poor decisions in crunch time. Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee, in particular, took exception with the feedback.
The veterans — both signed to the Lakers on one-year contracts this past offseason — countered Walton’s criticism by expressing frustration with Walton’s inconsistent rotations this season, sources told ESPN.
Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the story.
If you had said the Lakers would have a mid-season locker room issue back in July — when “the Meme Team” of McGee, Beasley, Lance Stephenson, and Rajon Rondo was put together — the reaction would have been “well, what did you expect?” Add in the 6-12 record without LeBron in the last few weeks, shrinking roles for McGee and Beasley as younger Lakers get their minutes and, well, this seems more inevitable than a surprise.
The anti-Luke Walton forces in Los Angeles — which may include the Laker front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka — will want to pin this on the coach they think has lost the locker room. As with a lot of issues surrounding these Lakers, if Magic wants to blame someone he needs to start by looking in the mirror. — he put this roster together.
Teams have tensions and issues — the team the Lakers lost to on Saturday had a very public flare-up between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green that became a national discussion. The Warriors moved on and are back to being the best team in the NBA. Most teams have issues during the season — if they don’t, it’s often a sign of a team that doesn’t care. If a team is full of competitive guys there will be tensions.
Next season LeBron will be back with the Lakers. Jeanie Buss will still own and run the team, Magic and Pelinka will still be in the front office. After that, nothing is set in stone. Every other player could be gone and Walton’s job is certainly not safe. Insecurity breeds tension. Especially on a team two games out of the playoffs in the West.
What happened with the Lakers on Saturday night should not come as a surprise, and should not be blown out of proportion. LeBron will return for the next game — Tuesday against a Pacers team without Victor Oladipo — and the ship will right itself. But while the incident itself may have been predictable, the fallout from it long-term is not. Right now, on these Lakers heading into the trade deadline (where they are pushing hard to land Anthony Davis), just about anything is possible.