<
>

No more room for Anthony Davis what-ifs on Lakers' path to playoffs

play
Davis tallies 22 points in 21 minutes (1:09)

Anthony Davis shoots an efficient 10-of-14 scoring 22 points in limited action for the Pelicans against the Lakers. (1:09)

Taking the escalator down behind Section 107 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, a rider will come face to face with a 30-foot portrait of Anthony Davis, starting at eye level with the Pelicans star's arched brow at the top, before lining up with his scruffy beard when the escalator ends at street level.

It will be art installations such as this, as well as merchandise in the team shop and digital images on the team's website that the Pelicans will be tasked with scrubbing -- much the way they already removed Davis from their intro video -- whenever they move on from the six-time All-Star.

It will be a tedious task, but a basic one at the same time. The Pelicans will only have to erase the tangible.

The Los Angeles Lakers, the team so ready to risk it all for The Brow that they reportedly offered half the roster as well as a couple first-round draft picks to try to acquire him, are left trying to erase the hurt that pursuit caused their locker room.

It's not as easy as tearing down a poster and restocking some shelves.

And especially not easy when all those feelings can get dredged up again on a night like Wednesday when the Lakers beat Davis' Pelicans 125-119 in Los Angeles.

A couple days after the trade deadline, Lakers president Magic Johnson flew to Philadelphia to meet the team and delivered a message to the media that was part Jimmy Dugan in "A League of Their Own," part echoing the old cliché that the NBA really stands for No Boys Allowed.

"Quit making this about thinking these guys are babies because that's what you're treating them like," Johnson said. "They're professionals. All of them. And this is how this league works. They know it, I know it -- that's how it goes."

In the visitors locker room in New Orleans on Saturday, before the Lakers lost to the Pelicans by 13 with Davis sitting on the sideline in a T-shirt and blazer, Kyle Kuzma -- at least outwardly -- was portraying the steely-minded pro that Johnson described.

He was asked: Does everything surrounding this game -- considering the Lakers have been connected to the Pelicans for months -- enter into your thought process at all?

"Nope," Kuzma said.

None whatsoever? Do people hit you up, friends and family, asking about it?

"Nope. It's been long gone."

Any thoughts on Davis not playing?

"Nah, I mean, they got their own situation. That's how they're handling it. I don't really know about it so I can't really talk about it."

Others will do the talking. Wondering if the Lakers sabotaged their season by chasing Davis so publicly. ... Falling into one of several criticism camps either aimed at LeBron James for not holding up his end of the bargain, or at the Lakers' young core for not growing up quickly enough, or at Lakers management for not building the team properly, or at Luke Walton for not coaching them up well enough.

Add it all up and just halfway through the first year of LeBron's four-year commitment to L.A., the franchise finds itself at a crossroads that could determine how the entire James era in Laker Land plays out.

All they can do to make things better in the short term is win like they did Wednesday with Davis in the building. Could it have been awkward for the Lakers' core to wonder if the fans in the stands at Staples Center saw Davis put up 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting with 8 rebounds in 21 minutes and wanted him more than they want them?

If it was a so-called "distraction," as so many seem keen to label it, you wouldn't know it by the way Kuzma attacked the rim in the third quarter to get L.A. back into it after the Pelicans threatened to knock the Lakers out.

"We talk about [the negative speculation] and it might be a reality [of being in L.A.], but we can't let that be our truth," Walton said Wednesday. "We have to make that decision to not let those things get in the way of what we want to accomplish."

play
0:18

Kuzma dunks all over Randle.

Kyle Kuzma disrespects his former teammate, Julius Randle, with a vicious jam.

Everybody should be motivated to make the postseason, overcoming a three-game gap over the final 21 games, for their own reasons.

James can say, "It's nothing I need to get in this league that I don't already have. Everything else for me is just like icing on the cake," like he did in Boston earlier this month, but going from eight straight NBA Finals appearances to missing the playoffs would unquestionably be a bad look for his legacy.

For Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, making the playoffs would be another step in their professional development and the thrill of their young careers. Plus, with the entire league watching the Lakers' season unfold, this stretch will disproportionately define how other teams will view their talents -- for better or for worse.

For Magic and general manager Rob Pelinka, it would be another receipt they could add to the pile they hand to Jeanie Buss when it comes to evaluating their performance: Since we took over we got out from under some bad contracts, landed LeBron and made the playoffs. How do you like me now?

For Walton, it would be proof he just might be the right guy to continue to play ringmaster of this circus.

And Davis could still end up in L.A. But he'll have no direct impact on this playoff push. Maybe the young guys look so good down the stretch that the Lakers decide they would be better off waiting for Davis to reach free agency in 2020 than reigniting trade talks with the Pelicans in the offseason.

Or maybe they look so good that the Pelicans change their mind about wanting them and they are ultimately traded for Davis in July. That's the business. Playing any less than they're capable of to avoid such a scenario will only hurt their earning potential in the long run.

Or maybe Boston trades for Davis and Kyrie Irving re-ups with the Celtics and all the Davis-to-L.A. talk dies for good.

There are a lot of unknowns.

What's certain is anyone involved with the Lakers paying any more mind to Davis for the next six weeks is a waste of time.

Time to avoid the escalator, take the stairs and see where it takes them.