The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, an evening that saw more trade rumors about who would be in the team’s package for Anthony Davis break before the game even ended.
Perhaps predictably, between players who aren’t sure if they’ll be around past Thursday and a head coach who doesn’t seem set to last much longer than the end of the season — if that — tensions are reaching a boiling point, and reportedly spilled over after the game, according to various reporters from The Athletic:
As uncertainty surrounds Lakers into deadline week, several veterans -- including Michael Beasley -- had an emotionally-charged verbal exchange with head coach Luke Walton postgame tonight, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @WatchStadium. It stopped short of turning physical.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 3, 2019
In postgame locker room, Luke Walton preached to players on playing unselfishly, sources said, when several veteran players snapped back. As one source described it, “Heated scene.” https://t.co/w7YXNeVgRl— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 3, 2019
Veterans, including Beasley, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson, challenged Walton in postgame locker room, sources said. Those involved were separated before anything escalated. https://t.co/Z99Hhh2fUL— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 3, 2019
To add on here, I’m told JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley were the focus of this message and they didn’t take kindly - JaVale more than anyone. https://t.co/6phGSmLUgM— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 3, 2019
Not the first time things have gotten heated between Walton and Beasley. They had a flare-up on the bench in Oklahoma City earlier this month. https://t.co/xWxlSvES3q— Bill Oram (@billoram) February 3, 2019
The veteran players raised their voice on topics of Walton’s playing time distribution and rotations, sources said. Hope afterward among players and coaches was that this helped cleanse issues within the team. https://t.co/NEEZ9Vyx4n— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 3, 2019
Stephenson disputed that report on Instagram and Oram said he heard he was not involved, and after a while, the originally reported events were somewhat rebutted by reporters from ESPN and the L.A. Times:
Heard the same. Josh Hart, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee were frustrated and got a bit heated, but it never came close to getting physical, I’m told. https://t.co/roZ7LuthBE— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) February 3, 2019
Source called what happened tonight: "way overhyped." Stuff like this happens in locker rooms often but Lakers are under ton of scrutiny right now. With vets on 1-year deals + young guys going through 1st trade deadline hearing their names, Lakers locker room can be tense lately https://t.co/bQ76vtfpSq— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) February 3, 2019
So... That’s a lot to unpack, but let’s try to get into all of this.
It would certainly be the optimistic view to imagine that something like this cleared the air for the team or was super normal, and while that’s not impossible, it would seem a lot more likely that this is the natural result when an organization spends all year leaking that their head coach isn’t their guy to every reporter with a cell phone and a Twitter account.
Stuff like that makes Walton seem like a dead man walking, which hardly does wonders for his status in a locker room filled with one-year veterans known for volatile personalities that are being bandied about in trade rumors, and that’s before even getting to LeBron James’ camp (surely acting totally independently from what LeBron wants!) signaling to even more members of the media that they would prefer the Lakers change coaches.
Look, I’m not saying Walton will or should be fired, and I know it’s a pain to replace a head coach midseason, but good lord is the way the Lakers have handled this disrespectful. If Walton isn’t their guy, there is no reason to keep him employed in a season that is heading down the drain quicker than Walton’s leak-soaked reputation, and doing so while continuing to have stuff like this happen is just wrong.
Maybe all of this really does blow over. Maybe this was just trade deadline-fueled tension coming to a head. If things really did get sorted out from this meeting, great. But again, that would seem to be an overly optimistic view of things, even if this is anonymously sourced and we will likely never know the whole story — and Walton and the rest of the Lakers will likely downplay the significance of these events over the days to come, something we started to see tonight via those counter-leaks.
However, until Walton remains as head coach heading into next year, it’s just hard for me to believe that all this scuttlebutt and rumormongering means nothing anymore, and we just saw the real consequences of it tonight. Maybe the Jason Kidd era will be different. At least when this front office has a chance to pick their guy there’s a chance the coach will get a fair shot, instead of getting tarred and feathered when it’s clear they never had a chance in the first place.
This story was updated to report that Lance Stephenson was likely not involved. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.