LOS ANGELES — There have not been a lot of bright spots amidst the current injury apocalypse and five-game losing streak for the Los Angeles Lakers. The play of rookie big man Moe Wagner has been a small positive for the team long-term, but it’s still (understandably) hard for most to look at this team and see anything to smile about right now.
But while the play of Josh Hart isn’t anything to get overly excited about in terms of results — the Lakers are about half a point per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the floor over the last five games — he’s still managed to see his 3-point percentage tick back upward to 38.9 percent during this recent stretch.
Arguably more importantly, Hart has demonstrated the sort of fight the Lakers are going to need from players if they want to avoid another disappointing result next season, and once again shown he’s exactly the sort of tough motherf---er every team with title aspirations needs.
The Lakers don’t have those aspirations this season anymore, but it’s not for any lack of trying from Hart, who has been playing through increasingly worse pain from tendinitis since the summer, and it sounds like it could be even worse than that.
“I wish it was just that. It’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s just monitoring the pain level,” Hart said after the Lakers’ 120-107 loss to the Boston Celtics. “I can deal with it until the end of this season, and then I got to focus on how to treat that and the rest of the stuff.”
Hart got a platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) injection before the All-Star break, and the hope was that this latest treatment attempt could patch him up well enough that he could finish out what the Lakers were anticipating would be a playoff push. Hart also said he’s been working on his knee with Lakers assistant athletic trainer Nina Hsieh “every day,” but they just aren’t getting the results they’re looking for.
“Nothing has really helped. It’s something that I’m going to have to deal with at the end of the season. Right now it’s just trying to manage the pain and go from there,” Hart said.
This is where the question has to be asked: What is the benefit in Hart continuing to play? The Lakers are all-but out of playoff contention, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are both done for the season, and even Hart’s fellow 2017 draftee Kyle Kuzma has been sitting out to make sure his ankle is all right. With so little to play for, why should Hart further risk injuring his knee? Has he spoken to management or the coaching staff about possibly taking a break or shutting down for the season?
Hart acknowledge that scenario “might come up,” but to him, there is psychic value for the team’s culture and himself in continuing to fight and play for as long as he can.
“I don’t want to give up on the team,” Hart said before stopping to make sure he clarified that he wasn’t implying any of his teammates who weren’t playing had given up, a sadly necessary confirmation given how often people are looking for drama with this team.
“I don’t want to give up on this team. I want to play every game because I know this summer I won’t be able to play the game for a while,” Hart continued. “I’m gonna play as hard as I can for however long I can. Obviously I don’t want to make things worse, but I want to go out there and compete and play every game as much as I can.”
Even amidst a season that has gone off the rails with technically nothing to play for, that mindset is admirable, and if Hart survives the major roster changes that are surely coming this summer, it's a mindset the Lakers' culture should be able to benefit from for years to come.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.