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Magic Johnson backtracks on hugging untraded Lakers

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The Lakers didn’t trade for Anthony Davis before Thursday’s deadline.

The Lakers did have most of their roster – Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac (who got sent to the Clippers in another deal), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley – named in reports of Los Angeles’ offers to the Pelicans.

That appeared to take a toll on the Lakers’ chemistry. So, Lakers president Magic Johnson met with the team Sunday.

But his tone before and after differed significantly.

Johnson on Saturday, via Larry Lage of the Associated Press

“It’s a part of business, it’s a part of being a professional athlete,” he said Saturday. “I’m going to hug ’em and tell them that we got to come together and our goal is still in reach, which is to make the playoffs.”

Johnson on Sunday, via ESPN:

I’m not that guy. I’m not the guy who, “Ohhhh, I’m going to hold. I’m going to go up and hug guys.” I’m not that dude.

Quit making this about thinking these guys are babies, because that’s what you’re treating them like. They’re professionals. All of them. And this is how this league works. They know it. I know it. That’s how it goes.

What’s worse, your team trying to trade you for a superstar or your boss pledging to hug you then rescinding the offer? Either way, tough times for Lakers players.

Rumor: Pelicans tried to sabotage Lakers’ chemistry through Anthony Davis trade rumors

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When Anthony Davis requested a trade, the Pelicans said their decision “will not be dictated by those outside of our organization. We have also requested the League to strictly enforce the tampering rules associated with this transaction.”

Davis got fined, but it’s obvious New Orleans’ ire wasn’t directed at only him. It extended to Davis’ agent (Rich Paul), LeBron James (another Paul client) and the Lakers. LeBron recently caused a stir by saying he wanted to play with Davis. The timing of Davis’ trade request, when the Celtics effectively couldn’t trade for him, seemed designed to get him to Los Angeles.

Since, negotiations between the Pelicans and Lakers have gained little to no traction. Word emerged New Orleans was unimpressed with the Lakers’ lowball offers. To avoid criticism that came with their failed pursuits of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers leaked just how strong their offer was. That meant including many names: Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

While trade talks unfolded, Lakers veterans feuded with Luke Walton. The Lakers lost by 42 to the Pacers.

Brian Windhorst was asked whether the Pelicans were so upset with the Lakers’ perceived tampering, New Orleans used trade rumors to undermine the Lakers chemistry. Windhorst on ESPN:

It’s not just possible. It’s what happened. I know that the Pelicans – how do I want to put this?

The Pelicans had a method to their madness in the way this went. Did they know it was going to lead a 40-point loss because everybody’s upset? Not necessarily.

Whether or not New Orleans deliberately attempted to undermine the Lakers’ chemistry, that appears to be the result in Los Angeles. So, if the Lakers remain largely intact through the trade deadline, how will they respond?

Will everyone re-focus once freed of the immediate distraction? Or will they resent their fungibility to the team?

The Lakers are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Extending moping could cost them the postseason. So, the stakes are high.

Report: Lakers offering eight players for Anthony Davis

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The Lakers reportedly improved their offer for Anthony Davis.

How much?

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The deal could include Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac and Moritz Wagner. It could include additional picks and pick swaps.

But that’s nearly everything Los Angeles could send the Pelicans.

Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram are young players with positive value. The first-rounders obviously hold positive value. Solomon Hill (guaranteed $12,758,781 next season) carries negative value, and New Orleans would like to unload him. Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley have neutral-value expiring contracts to facilitate the trade.

Still, this offer doesn’t make Davis-to-Los Angeles a forgone conclusion. A few questions remain: Do the the Pelicans hold interest in those young Lakers? What years are the picks, and how are they protected? What offers have other teams made?

But this offer could easily put the Lakers in the driver’s seat for Davis.

Locker room dust-up between Laker veterans, Luke Walton after loss no big surprise

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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.

Eighty percent of LeBron James is enough to get Lakers critical win against Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — There was unquestionably rust.

“The first quarter was just kind of a feel out quarter to see how my groin would react,” LeBron James said of his return to the court after a 17-game absence due to a strained groin, a stretch where the Lakers went 6-11 and fell out of playoff position. “I didn’t really run as hard as I’m accustomed to on breaks. I had a couple of drives, just trying to mentally get into it….

“I’m not there all the way, as far as physically. My timing, like I (said during a postgame television interview) is 80 percent right now, but it felt good to be 80 and be back on the floor and put on a Lakers’ uniform again.”

That 80 percent was enough to have a true LeBron effect — he settled them. In the fourth quarter Thursday night, the Clippers went on a 7-0 run that cut the lead down to six. LeBron stepped up and hit a three. It was like that all night.

More importantly, the Laker halfcourt offense was just smoother, with better passing and spacing. When he sat during this game, the looks the Lakers got were more often difficult ones.

That LeBron effect turned into 24 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists leading the Lakers to a 123-120 overtime win against the Clippers.

This was not only a big win because LeBron returned, but also because the Lakers have 7-of-8 on the road coming up (their toughest stretch of the schedule all season). Also because the Clippers are the team the Lakers are chasing for the final playoff spot in the West. With the win, the Lakers are just one game back of the eight seed Clippers.

The Laker halfcourt offense struggled with LeBron out since Christmas, it had a much better flow on Thursday (even with LeBron’s rust).

“He made the right plays, he got guys open, he finished when he had to,” Laker guard Josh Hart said. “He’s just so smart. He’s such a good veteran player. He gets guys in their spots to get easy buckets. His basketball IQ is just through the roof.”

LeBron also got some help — good Lance Stephenson showed up (you never know which one you will get), and he had 20 points off the bench plus hit 5-of-8 from three. Brandon Ingram added 19 on 12 shots.

The Clippers got 24 points from Lou Williams off the bench, and beyond that we saw their usual balanced attack — six other players were in double figures. However, late in games, the Clippers lacked someone beyond Williams they could count on to create and make plays. It led to sloppy offense.

The Lakers had no such questions, they knew who they wanted to run the offense through.

LeBron played 40 minutes — and the Lakers needed every one to get the win. But there’s a price for that.

“I’m not feeling particularly great right now,” LeBron said of his condition after the game….

“It’s a little bit of everything. The groin is a little sore right now, but I already knew that. I hadn’t played an NBA game in over a month, so I knew that was going to be a bit of a problem. My wind wasn’t going to be where I wanted it to be, the timing on my shots (was off)…

“I’m looking forward to see how I feel tomorrow. It’s going to be a tell-tale sign of all the rehab, work, everything I’ve been putting in for the past five weeks.”

LeBron gets a day to rest, the Lakers are off on Friday but fly up to the Bay Area for a nationally televised game against the Warriors on Saturday. LeBron plans to suit up for that one — the playoffs have essentially started for the Lakers, they need to make a push to get in starting now, and he’s not going to sit out any longer.

“I love clothes. I love suits. But I didn’t come here to put on a suit every day, I came to put on a jersey,” LeBron said.