During the protracted Anthony Davis trade negotiations at the trade deadline, it was easy to see that the strain of the rumors was having an adverse effect on the Lakers. But while the popular narrative was to place the blame for the team’s poor play at the feet of the team’s young players, it was actually the Lakers’ veterans — the ones not on the trading block — who saw their performance suffer.
Given that the young players (specifically Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart) were mentioned in nearly every iteration of the Davis trades that were leaked, it would be understandable if they had difficulty drowning out the noise. However, in a sit-down with Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, Rajon Rondo admitted that even the veterans were impacted by all of the drama surrounding a potential Davis deal:
“Even some of the old guys were affected,” Rondo says. “I can’t say a name, but I remember me and the guy were on the bench for the Atlanta game right before the [All-Star] break. The guy was cussing and talking bad about the situation during the game. I was like: ‘Snap out of it. That shit is over with. We’ll get through it. As vets, we have to move forward and not focus on what the young guys are focusing on. Set an example.’ It was a little crazy to see a vet distraught over that.
The Lakers played in Atlanta five days after the trade deadline and lost in dispiriting fashion to a lottery-bound team starting multiple rookies. It was the first in a series of bad losses in February that doomed the Lakers’ ultimately futile playoff chase. The team had some bad body language throughout this stretch of the season, but it still surprising to hear Rondo say that extended to the vets, particularly once the deadline had already passed and the roster was set for the rest of the year.
Rondo claimed to be immune to the noise himself, having been a part of trade rumors throughout his Boston career (lol, Danny Ainge). But he did acknowledge that it was hard for players to commit to the Lakers knowing that the front office didn’t exactly show a lot of interest in keeping them around:
”Guys may have felt like, ‘Oh, I need to prove myself so I won’t be traded’ or ‘They’re going to trade me anyway.’ Each game you didn’t know what the mentality was for those guys: ‘Should I give my all to this organization that is about to trade me in two days?’”
The 2018-19 season demonstrated a lot of the pitfalls of building a team through short-term contracts, and judging by Rondo’s comments, the players were not immune to the drama that ensued. Heading into an offseason that will assuredly feature more trade negotiations, this is a problem that could rear its head again. Hopefully, the new coaching staff is able to build a strong locker-room culture to avoid similar issues next year.