Two years ago, the Lakers started 2019 with three losses to OKC, Knicks, and the Timberwolves. The mini losing streak stoked the fire under the main talking point in the NBA – when will the Lakers trade for Anthony Davis, and it was tearing the L.A. locker room apart.
To remind you, the summer before the ’18/’19 season trade negotiations between the Pelicans and Lakers broke down. Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson accused the Pelicans of negotiating in bad faith and started badmouthing the team he hoped to set up a trade the next season. (Who could’ve predicted Magic would care more about his reputation than the actual work of building a team.)
Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart knew they were the starting point in the ongoing trade conversations between the Lakers and Pelicans, and it was obviously affecting the young players. It’s bad enough knowing you’re on the trade block, but everyone understood LeBron was actively participating in the process. A teammate trying to ship you out isn’t the best thing for team chemistry, particularly with such a young group of players.
“I know other guys around me, it killed them every day. When you wake up and you see your name on Twitter, the guys around me, they love Twitter. They love searching, putting in their names”Brandon Ingram, The Old Man & the Three
Social media is the disease of the 21st century, and NBA players are not immune to it. Warriors GM Bob Myers recently said people are unaware how many max contract guys are still insecure about themselves and oversensitive to their reputation – the worst part is they measure it through Twitter and Instagram.
The Lakers had an additional problem because their teammate, leader, and superstar was actively participating in the process of shipping them out of town. The guy in practice, film session, and games wasn’t LeBron “The King” James, but LeBron “LeGM” James who has nothing to do with Klutch. Still, there were even GM’S who wanted the league to fine LeBron for his actions during this trade drama.
“We come to film, we come to practice and the energy is totally off. It doesn’t seem like nobody wants to play. It was a whirlwind.”Brandon Ingram, The Old Man & the Three
Ingram said that the whole year he was just yelling at people, being negative and frustrated because of the whole situation. To top it all off, the Lakers organization didn’t acknowledge the horrible situation the young guys were in and try to mitigate it. Magic actually showed up to a road game to criticize the players for letting all the rumors affect their game. The thing is, it wasn’t just the young players who were disappointed in how things were run in Lakerland.
“Even some of the old guys were affected. I can’t say a name, but I remember me and the guy were on the bench for the Atlanta game right before the [All-Star] break. The guy was cussing and talking bad about the situation during the game. … Guys may have felt like, ‘Oh, I need to prove myself so I won’t be traded’ or ‘They’re going to trade me anyway.’ Each game you didn’t know what the mentality was for those guys: ‘Should I give my all to this organization that is about to trade me in two days?’”Rajon Rondo, BR Mag
We will see more of this with player empowerment in full swing. There’s a reason why the coach-GM role didn’t work. Apart from it being two full-time jobs, and there’s not enough time in the day, it’s difficult to coach players and develop trust while shopping them around.
The same goes for player-GM’s. You can’t hold teammates accountable, nor can they feel comfortable doing the same to you, if you can influence trades, practice schedule, rotations, and style of play. Just ask people in Houston.