It’s a question of perception.
The report on ESPN that the Pelicans had played the Lakers’ push to trade for Anthony Davis in a way to sabotage the Lakers’ chemistry always smelled of spin. The fact is what hurt the “Lakers chemistry” far more than anything the Pelicans’ did was Rich Paul, the agent of Anthony Davis (and LeBron James, so the perception is this comes straight from LeBron), publicly requesting a mid-season trade out of New Orleans. And, very obviously, trying to push Davis toward the Lakers, where LeBron plays. This after Davis and LeBron dined together following a game earlier in the season. The Lakers put all their young talent — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma — in various the trade packages, ones that quickly became public. The Pelicans listened to the Lakers, but the decision makers in New Orleans were never tempted to play along.
The perception to those young Lakers? LeBron wants to trade them. It showed in the 42-point drubbing he distracted Lakers got from the Pacers this week.
In shootaround in Boston Thursday, LeBron was asked about the idea he is pushing the Lakers to make moves sooner rather than later. He pushed back.
LeBron didn’t have to push the Lakers to move quickly, the minute they got him they went into win-now mode. LeBron and the Laker brass talked about being patient, about seeing how LeBron fit with the young core, about thinking in terms of multiple years, but as those words came out of their mouths eyes around the rest of the NBA rolled. LeBron is now 34-years-old and while he’s done better than maybe any NBA player at outrunning Father Time, we know who ultimately wins that race.
The clock is ticking, the Lakers need another elite talent, and Davis more than fits that bill. Nobody should blame Davis for deciding he wanted out (he gave the Pelicans seven seasons to build a winner around him and they failed), nobody should blame Rich Paul for following his client’s wishes and trying to get him to Los Angeles, and LeBron didn’t do anything wrong, either.
But it’s about perception — and the perception is LeBron wanted the young Lakers traded for Davis. If/when the Davis trade fails to materialize at the deadline (and it will, the Lakers and Pelicans are not even talking in the hours running up to the deadline), LeBron and Luke Walton need to find a way to rally these young Lakers and make a playoff push. And they need to do it fast, the Lakers are in the toughest part of their schedule right now and could fall more than 2.5 games out of the postseason with more performances like the one in Indiana. While the eight-seed Clippers traded Tobias Harris and have started to focus on the Summer, the Kings are all in and are not going to let the Lakers just waltz into the postseason. The Lakers are going to have to rack up wins and earn it.
Because missing the playoffs entirely would have an ugly perception.