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LeBron James never ‘fully engaged’ with young Lakers before the trade deadline

The latest reporting on LeBron James and the Lakers at the trade deadline sort of confirms something most of us thought.

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NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, the Brooklyn Nets officially eliminated LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers from playoff contention. However, L.A.’s season was unofficially over long gone before then, and the wide belief is that the season took a bad turn as a result of the Anthony Davis trade saga leading up to the trade deadline.

However, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, the team’s chemistry issues began well before then:

One team source told ESPN that they didn’t feel as though James fully engaged with the younger teammates prior to the trade deadline.

That doesn’t mean Davis had nothing to do with it, though. According to the report, most of the other players in the Lakers’ locker room were turned off by James’ public fawning over Davis:

With Davis under contract until 2020, the only way LeBron would get the “incredible” experience of playing alongside him -- without waiting out his first two seasons as a Laker -- would be L.A. trading assets to bring The Brow to the South Bay.

James’ endorsement would send shock waves through the Lakers’ locker room.

”The only players whose play hasn’t been affected by the trade talks are James and Rajon Rondo,” a team source told ESPN.

The narrative that the young players were distraught by being involved in trade rumors is the one that most people have ran with with since the trade deadline, and while that might be true, it didn’t impact their play on the court any more or less than it did the veterans. In fact, statistically, the veterans on the team showed more of a drop off than the young guys.

Since the All-Star break, 12 players have averaged at least 10 minutes per game for the Lakers. While only three players — Johnathan Williams, Alex Caruso and LeBron James — have posted a positive net rating, the top half of the team in terms of net rating features Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee. With the exception of McGee and James, those are all young players.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the team includes Moe Wagner, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo, who is posting a team-low -10.2 net rating and allowing an abysmal 113.4 points per 100 possessions. Have some of the young guys been bad? Sure, but the veterans have been just as bad, if not worse.

Silver Screen and Roll’s own Laker Film Room did a video on this exact subject in February after James made comments implying that the young players on the team weren’t playing with a sense of urgency:

Pinning the Lakers’ struggles this season on the young and inexperienced players on the roster is easy, but it’s not accurate — at least not entirely. The trade rumors might have hit the young players a little harder, but they still went out on the court and did their job.

While you can argue they don’t deserve praise for that, they certainly don’t deserve the unwarranted criticism they’ve receive, and if you think they do, then so do the veterans.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @RadRivas.

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