Given the justifiably aggressive stance the Lakers have taken in trying to pry All-Star Anthony Davis away from the Pelicans, it’s fair to wonder how all the chatter affects those who wear the purple and gold. The players have been asked numerous times, to be sure, and, outwardly, they’re giving all the right answers. It’s part of the business, they note, and, at the end of the day, they will continue to have gainful employment. A few even go so far as to seemingly welcome inclusion in trade talks, arguing it to be a reflection of value.
In truth, everyone is affected when the future becomes hazy. Even those who have been around long enough to acknowledge the ins and outs of the multi-billion-dollar enterprise also known as the National Basketball Association suffer from bouts of anxiety, and not always due to practical considerations. And the situation is magnified heading into the trade deadline, when franchises look to improve rosters at the expense of erstwhile regulars in a race against time. Even operations — and those plying their trade for organizations — in small markets aren’t spared.
Imagine, then, how the circus appears to relative newcomers who are suddenly thrust in the limelight as pawns in a high-stakes chess match. Even as their potential, or lack thereof, is scrutinized from every conceivable angle, they are compelled to steel themselves for changes in their lives. And because these changes figure to happen in the middle of the season, little to no preparation is afforded them. They could wind up far from families, be forced to make new friends, require virtually nomadic routines. In light of their plight, they cannot but be unnerved — with the air of uncertainty casting a shadow on them on the court and off.
Which, in a nutshell, was why the Lakers were blown off the court yesterday. They were supposed to be heading into a veritable cakewalk, what with top dog LeBron James back in action and the Pacers missing cornerstone Victor Oladipo. Instead, they proved flat from the outset and could not summon even a modicum of competitiveness en route to a 42-point setback, the worst ever in the 16-year career of the four-time Most Valuable Player. For all their supposed fire coming after a loss against the Warriors (one that prompted an animated postgame locker-room discussion), they were listless and only too willing to go through the motions.
How the Lakers will emerge from the trade deadline remains to be seen. So far, though, it’s not a pretty sight. Top management has become frustrated with the Pelicans’ evidently lukewarm reception to overtures that already involve everybody outside of James. Head coach Luke Walton is under heavy fire as the last vestige of the previous dispensation. The players are wallowing in dismay; after basking under the klieg lights of glitz and glamour, anything else pales in comparison. And their Number One recruit of the offseason is antsy, never mind public pronouncements of patience.
The end of the week should provide some clarity to those from the outside looking in. For the Lakers, it’s one or the other: They’ll be off to the races if they land Davis, and simply off if they don’t. Two surefire Hall of Famers on the roster will get them casting moist eyes on the hardware. Just one will require them to mend fences with those around him in order to salvage a disappointing outcome. The stakes are high, the mistakes are compounded, and time will tell if the reward’s worth the risk.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.