EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- During his 3 1/2 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Blake was hardly ever the biggest player on the court in terms of stature (he's 6-3, 172 pounds) or statistical output (he has career averages of 6.9 points and 4.0 assists), but if you listen to his former teammates, his impact was immeasurable.
"His spark. His attitude," said Nick Young, asked to reflect on Blake with the point guard's new team, the Golden State Warriors, playing the Lakers on Friday. "He was a leader for us. In the earlier, beginning of the year, he was one of the main reasons we was winning. I think we needed that. I think we was all young players and ain’t really used to being in winning systems and we didn’t have that mental approach coming into the games that Blake and Kobe Bryant) bring."
Not long after the trade, Bryant tweeted that he was "not cool" with Blake's departure "AT ALL," adding that he considers the 11-year veteran a "psycho competitor."
With nearly two months passed since the deal, and the Lakers going just 7-17 with Blake, there are others in L.A. missing Blake the same way.
"When he’s on a team, he’s kind of your grittiness factor," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "He will play every possession. He’ll get upset with guys that don’t play hard. So, he’s sorely missed. He’s defense. He’ll make big shots. You just know he’s going to give everything. He’s a good player and he’s going to give everything he’s got every night on every play."
Blake was averaging 9.5 points and a career-high 7.6 assists in 27 games -- all starts -- with the Lakers before being traded. His role has been reduced with the Warriors, having his minutes cut down from 33 to 20.8 and his points (3.8 per game) and assists (3.3) taking a plunge as well.
But Blake's drop statistically pales in comparison to what losing him has meant to the Lakers.
"When he left, it kind of all caved in," D'Antoni said. "And there’s a reason for it and the reason is, he’s good. And he’s gritty and he’s tough. And he’s a locker room presence and he’s a practice presence. He just oozes what you need to do to win and when you lose that, it makes it tough. It’s hard to make up."
Jordan Farmar, who backed up Blake at point guard, said that his kind of presence is lacking in the locker room.
"He was a valuable guy to this team, this organization," said Farmar. "He’d been here for awhile, so he had some clout with just speaking up with things going on. He’s talented and tough and was a big part of what we were doing at that part of the season."
The good news for Blake is that he will be playoff bound with the Warriors, as they currently occupy the No. 6 seed in the West. The Lakers, meanwhile, are lottery bound and currently have the sixth-worst record in the league.
"You can try (to replace Blake), but either you got it or you don’t have it. And he has it. So, it’s just a void," said D'Antoni. "Especially with everybody being hurt and kind of coming back and this and that. I mean, if everybody is healthy, yeah, you can probably make up for it somewhere. But when he’s holding everything together a little bit as a thread and then he’s gone, it kind of caves in a little bit."