LeBron James tried to trade every single one of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates for Anthony Davis — or at least that’s what you might believe if you only paid attention to the way those negotiations were talked about on television debate shows.
But in reality, while James even kicked off the whole saga by saying it would be “amazing” to play with Davis, it’s not realistic to think he was managing the process step-by-step during the season. Number one, that’s not his M.O., but he also in all practicality wouldn’t have had time, and all reports have painted him as relatively hands-off during the ordeal — he didn’t need to do much, after all, if then president of basketball operations Magic Johnson was spending every day tirelessly trying to figure out how to turn on trade override from NBA 2K on in real life.
During a recent appearance on the “Inside the Green Room with Danny Green” podcast in which most of the headlines he drew were for talking about how he felt James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were the only “untouchable” Lakers during the trade deadline negotiations for Anthony Davis, Lakers guard Josh Hart also said something interesting about the way everything went down, who took a lot of the blame for it, and implied that it didn’t seem exactly fair to him (emphasis mine):
“It was just weird because we all still wanted to make the playoffs, wanted to make a push, wanted to kind of buy all-in. It was just a little different because Bron’s there, so Bron’s gonna take the rap (from fans and the media). It’s either ‘Bron wants to trade the whole team,’ or ‘Bron wants to do this,’ or whatever it is. Like Bron could have nothing to do with it, but because he’s there, it’s Bron’s fault.”
As noted above, that’s not entirely accurate. On one hand, yes, James’ agency, Klutch Sports, was clearly trying to force Davis’ way to the Lakers. And yes, James and Davis are both repped by Rich Paul (James’ childhood friend). Is it likely that James signed off on the strategy employed to attempt and shock-and-awe the Pelicans into forking over Davis? Absolutely.
At the same time, though, Paul is also Davis’ agent, and he also has to do what Davis feels like in his best interests, regardless of James. Obviously it’s ideal for Klutch if James and Davis’ desire line up, but it’s not like Paul would be going to James for approval on every development, because he owes it to Davis to do what’s best for Davis.
There is also the matter that Davis is a grown man who makes his own decisions, despite some in the New Orleans media preferring to portray him as some impressionable man-child who is being manipulated by big bad James and Paul, who just want to steal the Pelicans’ best player. But do you really think that Davis would have left his prior agency last year, hired Paul and then signed off on this strategy to get him to L.A. if it wasn’t what he wanted? It’s not like Davis is being just dragged along for the ride here, or innocent in all this.
Now, is James agitating for Davis in the media part of what created the public firestorm about Davis at the deadline? Yes, and he didn’t have to do that. But Hart is fair to point out that while James was getting a lot of the blame for how things went wrong, this wasn’t really something that was totally under his control (or at least would not logically seem to be).
Regardless of who to blame, though, Hart did admit that the whole sage made it more difficult for the team to gel, while also seemingly reinforcing the point he made about James above:
”Yeah, it was weird. When things happen, you want to be professional about it, and when everything doesn’t happen say ‘oh don’t believe everything that was out there, it wasn’t the truth.’ And it might not have been, honestly, but it was just weird because it was a totally different vibe.”
Hart is right to note that not all of the rumors going around may have been wholly accurate, and in that case it’s also hard to blame James for the firestorm in February. Does he deserve some culpability due to his connections and role in setting off the whole thing publicly? Yes, that’s fair, but once the ball was rolling, there were far bigger issues contributing to the dysfunctional negotiations. The Lakers (and Pelicans, and Klutch) will just have to work on keeping things quieter and less acrimonious this time around.
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.