When Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss called the reporting on the team’s involvement in the Anthony Davis trade saga “fake news,” it raised a lot eyebrows, and not just because Buss is well-known to be fairly liberal politically and under normal circumstances would seemingly be unlikely to use such damaging rhetoric about the press that is more popular with the other side of the political spectrum.
Buss must have been upset with the way the news was handled, and in ways that extend beyond a successful person wanting to control the narrative about their business (although that would likely seem to be a likely factor as well).
According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, Buss was annoyed, and it’s because she buys the reports/speculation that the New Orleans Pelicans attempted to weaponize those trade rumors to damage the Lakers locker room, a strategy that appeared to work pretty well if the aftermath of the deadline is anything to go off of:
Yet, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, the real root of the comments was much more nuanced than it might have appeared. From Jeanie on down, there is a growing belief that rival teams like New Orleans have gone to great lengths to do the kind of subversive damage that is nearly impossible to prove. Johnson himself has said that he doesn’t believe the Pelicans negotiated in good faith, and it certainly was unique to see trade packages with remarkable specificity being reported throughout the process.
Amick is right that it’s unusual to see every single trade offer a team makes leaking, but shouldn’t that have also indicated to the Lakers that maybe the Pelicans were not negotiating in good faith and they should stop throwing offers at them?
And if those reports were really fake, and the Lakers REALLY weren’t negotiating against themselves as hard as some reports made it appear — an unlikely possibility, but a possibility nonetheless — there are ways to push back on that sort of information through counter-leaks. Or if the stuff really was so fake, the Lakers could have even denounced it in some sort of official statement, or on the record comment from Buss, Magic Johnson or Rob Pelinka.
Also, while these trade rumors were more prevalent and specific than most trade sagas, the real reason they seemed to be so toxic to the inner workings of the team was the perception that LeBron James was green-lighting the potential shipping out of nearly his entire roster of teammates. You can say he’s not the GM, but when he starts lobbying for the Lakers to go get a player through the media, it’s functionally the same thing as trying to make it happen.
And come on, are we REALLY going to pretend he had his hands COMPLETELY clean in these negotiations? That would seem to be willful ignorance given the public information we have.
But getting back to Amick’s report that the Lakers believe that the rest of the league is out to get them, let me just say: No duh. While the Pelicans might have been extreme in their tactics, every NBA team is out to get every other NBA team. Doubly so when they sense blood in the water from an inexperienced front office that could be out of their depth, and that same front office also happens to have no shortage of enemies around a league they’ve gleefully told they’re going to steal star players from — while sometimes skirting the rules in their attempts to do it.
While there is little doubt that the Pelicans used leaks like a laser-targeted smart bomb to blow up the Lakers’ locker room, that was only in retaliation for a coordinated assault on their franchise from Klutch Sports in the form of a trade demand 10 days before the deadline, with leak after leak making it clear that Davis and his reps were trying to destroy the Pelicans’ leverage and force Davis’ way to the Lakers. Of course the Pelicans were upset about that, and retaliated as such.
The bottom line is that the Lakers aren’t entitled to success just because they’re the Lakers. Every single NBA team is going to be working against them, it’s not like these teams are trying to help any of their opponents, either.
Maybe the Lakers are slightly more targeted and disliked than other teams around the league, but there is little doubt that is mostly their own doing because of the way they’ve gone about some of their business since Johnson and Pelinka took over. You can point to those tactics — like signing fellow Klutch client Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a massive deal — as helping them do things like set themselves up to sign LeBron James, but other NBA teams aren’t going to appreciate those sometimes public and always unabashed attempts to skirt the rules and steal their players.
You can disagree with those team’s viewpoints or reasoning for them, but it’s become increasingly clear that those are their viewpoints and reasoning for them. Now the Lakers are going to have to adjust. They just shouldn’t expect any help from the rest of the league to do so, and probably never should have in the first place.
And if the Lakers are really so upset about that, maybe they should just do some subversive damage that’s difficult to prove that they’re getting angry about right back to those teams. If it’s so impossible to catch when it’s done to them, there is no reason the Lakers can’t take advantage of it too, if they’re smart.