Dating back to last season’s trade deadline, the Lakers have actually been sending a pretty clear message, to those paying close enough attention: The days of LeBron James and Anthony Davis being the driving force of a championship roster are behind us. We may not have wanted to hear it and thus paid attention to the bright neon sign that read “WE SWEAR WE’RE TRYING TO COMPETE” because that was a nicer reality.
Thing is, we don’t choose reality. So even while leaks came from the organization about how they needed more data to see just what the team was capable of or how they were just waiting for the right deal to come along, the depressing, suffocating reality is they just don’t believe in this core any longer.
Agree or disagree all you want, but as our parents told us as children: Actions speak louder than words.
I mean, really. We honestly bought that they thought Kendrick Nunn and an ancient Trevor Ariza could somehow turn things around for last year’s team? They’re still trying to sell that now, but with who, Cole Swider? Come on.
After least year’s trade deadline, the message was: “Well, wait for this summer. We’ll have another pick to work with! Russell Westbrook’s contract will be expiring! Did we mention Kendrick Nunn might be healthy?”
This offseason, even as they filled out the rest of the roster with a Westbrook trade in mind (hence the 53 other small guards on the team), we were told to wait. The deal would get better once the season starts and teams fire up their tanks for Victor Wembanyama. 20 games, they told us.
Well, we’re 20 games in as of Wednesday night against Portland. Guess what the message is now? Well, technically, there’s no way to know enough about a team to make a move until mid-December. And tucked away in Dave McNenamin’s reporting was a not-so-subtle mention of the post-holiday trade season everyone seemingly knows about. And surely that will give way to waiting until the trade deadline. Shit, we’ve already seen some framing from insiders on how they’ll have a whole ‘nother first rounder to play with on draft night.
Hell, they’ve had their chances. There was that weekend where it looked like Kyrie Irving might be a Laker. We’ve heard endlessly about a trade that reportedly got to the one-yard-line for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. Talks got close between them and the Utah Jazz for a trade involving Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay.
In all cases, it was the Lakers pulling out for one reason or another.
The actual reason, however, is not something we wanted to actually consider.
And so it will continue. Like a child not wanting their vegetables, they’ll keep smushing food around their plate to trick their parents into thinking they’ve eaten enough to get up from the table. Problem is, I just don’t think the Lakers recognize what getting up from this table means here.
Yes, Jeanie Buss has experienced the Lakers somehow Lakers-ing themselves from star to star but it took nearly a decade before a 34-year-old LeBron came to the rescue and a year after that to bring Davis in. Them punting on any final chance James has at his fifth championship probably won’t sit very well with Klutch and stars around the league are probably paying close attention to how this is playing out.
If they aren’t willing to sacrifice a couple picks half a decade from now for the greatest player of the generation and basically the perfect costar, will some other star believe they’ll do what it takes to win with him? And for how long?
But hey, maybe that magical trade will come along that fixes everything. Perhaps the Lakers’ patience will actually have been for a purpose and not some grand, cynical plot to sell jerseys and tickets and maintain decent enough ratings at a mere chance at another giant tv rights contract while fans watch a shit product the front office knows is shit but won’t fix.
The Lakers will surely tell you all about the names they’re waiting for. Whether it’s DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul or any of the other saviors we know deep down aren’t available for a bad albeit expiring contract and two first rounders, each mention of those names might be enough to distract from the actual message we probably should be listening more closely to.
Rob Pelinka, Jeanie Buss and that whole inner circle doesn’t believe in the pair of stars who just two seasons ago won them a championship. They’ve told us as clearly as we could’ve hoped for if we’d only paid attention. Now, the question becomes: Who on god’s green earth could possibly believe in them?
I spoke to Harrison Faigen about this on our new show, “I Loathe Basketball.”
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.