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King’s Ransom: Lakers Caught Up In Team Drama

Perhaps Jack Nicholson was expecting spontaneous combustion just like when Lebron James first joined Cleveland, then jumped to Miami and then came back to Cleveland.

You can’t blame the Los Angeles Lakers superfan for figuring all it would take to prop his team up from the preposterous was for The King to hold court a few weeks at the Staples Center.

You know, maybe once James laid a hand on Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the boys, the team would rise instantaneously from the cellar and make everyone forget Golden State still has a pretty damn sweet team.

OK, let’s check in and see how the Lakers are doing. Uh oh, they are 27-26, have lost six of their last 10 and are 10th in the Western Conference.

Suffice to say, things haven’t progressed as many screenwriters in Hollywood scripted this season. The Lakers improvement is perceptible – they were 128-284 in the last five seasons since making the playoffs in 2012-13. But so is the discontent of some players and, most importantly, management – as in President Magic Johnson.

Luke Walton

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Things weren’t really prickly until James injured his groin on Christmas night. The Lakers figured he’d miss a game, maybe two or three. Instead, James missed 17  before returning Thursday to play 40 against the Los Angeles Clippers. But that apparently overheated him and he was not able to play Saturday in their 14-point loss at Golden State.

In those 19 games, the Lakers are 7-12. During those 19 games, all of the roster’s shortcomings have bubbled onto the stove. And during the last week, the suspicion the team will be dismantled in the effort to land Anthony Davis from New Orleans has turned things chaotic.

After the loss in Oakland, the foundation may have cracked when some of the players decided to go insubordinate on coach Luke Walton.

Walton is fighting for his job. Every time his team turns over the ball, it seems Johnson calibrates his microscope. It’s almost as if he can’t wait to hush Bill Walton’s baby boy.

As you might expect, Walton understands this and has decided he won’t tolerate lackadaisical play, which he felt was in abundance against the Dubs. Putting voice to that didn’t sit well with a few of the players, specifically Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee, who gave as much as they received. ESPN reported Beasley taunted Walton by calling him ‘bro.’

Since then, the spat has been downgraded, in terms of its harshness. But the problem is this was not an isolated incident. Tension has been growing since James has been hurt and particularly since the trade rumors began wafting.

“Everything we talk about, everything we work on, we have to even do that much better,” said Walton after the Warriors game. “The ball movement, it’s natural when guys, if the other team is on a run or they step up their defense, to try to go 1-on-1. But that just makes the other team’s defense better. So we got to continue to be aggressive, attack but also to create for others.”

The Lakers begin a four-game road swing Tuesday in Indianapolis and they will be in Boston on Thursday when the NBA trade deadline comes. At that point, the Lakers will know if Davis is coming and who will be going as a result.

“They [the players] seem pretty fine,” said Rajon Rondo, whose name has been bandied about in Davis’ deal speculation. “They’re still in the gym working. They know at the end of the day they’ll still have a job in the NBA regardless of where it’s at. They’re learning in this league that trade talks happen all the time and each year that they’ll be in the game they’ll understand that it’s a business.”

There have been many iterations of the Davis trade, most involving some combination of Rondo, Ball, Ingram, Ivica Zubach, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. Lakers fans know this is the heart of what’s a very young team.

And even if the Davis trade to L.A. doesn’t happen by Friday, it appears he’s decided he wishes to eventually play with James, even if the Pelicans send him to Boston, New York or anywhere else.

Davis was fined $50,000 by the NBA last week after his trade demand was made public. Now New Orleans needs to decide if its best to trade him now or risk having an uncooperative, sulking superstar around until he becomes a free agent on 2020.

What’s clear is this is nothing more than a transitional season for the Lakers and a playoff run would be a welcomed bonus. Even with James, the team was seemingly being displaced by the development of the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.

The masterplan, with or without Walton as coach, is for the Lakers to mirror the Dubs, who have all-stars at every position. Davis would represent just one piece, albeit a major one, giving the franchise the kind of post player it hasn’t had since Wilt and Shaq.

During the game on Saturday, a vocal group of Lakers fans broke into a chant of “We want Thompson.” This was a mating call to the Warriors Splash Brother, one of the top 2019 free agents. You can expect the Lakers to come after him both barrels blazing.

“They should want Klay,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “If I were sitting with them, I’d chant the same thing.”

Another Warriors superstar, Kevin Durant, is also a free agent after the season. With a little imagination, Nicholson can begin to imagine the 2019-20 Lakers with James., Davis, Thompson, and Durant, or some combination thereof.

“I don’t think it really affects us. We’re all grown men,” said Thompson. “At the end of the day, whatever we decide to do, we’re all brothers and we’re not going to hold any grudges because it’s business.

“Look at the bright side,” Thompson said. “It means you’re wanted. It means you’re doing something right. It’s part of our business. People love — especially when free agency comes — they love speculating who’s going to go where. Who’s going to shift the dynamics of the NBA? It’s good for our sport. It draws interest.”