As LeBron James was walking out of Crypto.com Arena’s interview room on Sunday night, he turned his head and smiled.
“Go ask Rob [Pelinka] those questions,” James said playfully.
Earlier, during his postgame news conference following the Lakers’ 119-117 victory over the Washington Wizards, I asked James whether he was concerned about how Anthony Davis’ injury could influence the front office leading into the trade deadline.
Specifically, I asked him if he was concerned whether Davis’ injury could make the front office even more reluctant to part with their first-round draft choices to provide James and Davis with the help they need.
“Not a question for me,” James said. “I have no idea. When I’m playing, I show up, prepare and work, go to work, get my guys ready to win a basketball game. I play the game. I’m not in the front office. So we’ll see.”
General manager Rob Pelinka is on the clock, but don’t feel sorry for him, owner Jeanie Buss or anyone else in management.
This is what they signed up for when they traded for Davis, whose frailty was already well-known. This is what they signed up for when they extended the contract of James, who turns 38 this month.
Those were two of the ultimate win-now moves. They’re now suddenly worried about the future?
The Lakers accepted they would stink in the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career, and how did that work out for them?
Unless they learn Davis’ injury is even worse than expected, they have to make deals, and if that means trading their precious draft picks, so be it.
The Lakers have tradeable first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, and their hesitation to move them looks like a hedge against their own incompetence. James shares responsibility for the misguided trade for Russell Westbrook, but it was ultimately the front office’s job to find players to compliment him and Davis, and the front office has failed.
The franchise’s decision makers know this, as they sent an indirect message about what they thought of their roster by holding on to their picks in the offseason: They weren’t confident the team was just a move or two away from contending.
Before Davis was injured in a game against the Denver Nuggets last week, he offered the front office a reason for gamble on this team, as he was arguably in the most dominant stretch of his career. The Lakers, who won only two of their first 10 games, won for the 10th time in 16 games on the night Davis was hurt. They won their next game, against the Wizards, as well.
Now, with multiple publications reporting that Davis could be sidelined for at least a month, his latest setback has almost certainly diminished whatever little faith management had in the team — or, perhaps, magnified the lack of confidence it has in itself to put together the right deal.
The trade deadline is Feb.9.
If Davis is sidelined for, say, six weeks, he would return in late January or early February. The team wouldn’t have much time to evaluate him before the deadline.
Furthermore, under that six-week timeline, Davis would miss more than 20 games. As it is, the Lakers are in 12th place in the Western Conference, two spots shy of the play-in tournament.
That’s plenty of uncertainty and plenty of reasons for the Lakers to do nothing and punt on the season — except, once again, this was what they signed up for. Davis missing a chunk of games was always part of the equation.
Provided Davis returns with enough time remaining in the regular season to build himself back up, the Lakers have to trust him to do what they are paying him to do.
In the meantime, the front office has to do what it’s paid to do, which is to place the right players around James and Davis. They have won games this season with a limited roster. Give them another scorer, give them some shooters, and who knows what will happen. James and Davis won a championship just three years ago.
This means trading both the 2027 and 2029 picks. Dealing only one of them won’t bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be, regardless of whether they acquire a third star or acquire multiple high-level complimentary players.
Admittedly, the situation is less than ideal, but the Lakers have only themselves to blame. They are where they are because of years of mismanagement, one desperate move leading to another, their only championship in recent years delivered by James, who wasn’t recruited by them as much as he just decided he wanted to play here.
The Lakers chose their path when they decided to build their team around James and Davis. They can’t turn back now.