What I’m Hearing: Martin Rogers spoke with a person close to the situation between the Lakers and Ben Simmons and here’s what they had to say.
LeBron James and the Lakers came under fire in a blistering verbal attack from a pair of franchise legends on Tuesday night — and they deserved every bit of it.
Following a miserable 117-113 defeat to the Hawks, Hall of Famer James Worthy and five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher laid into the Lakers, with the team heading into the All-Star break at 28-29 and in danger of missing the playoffs.
“It stinks,” Worthy said on Spectrum Sportsnet. “It sucks when you let a virus settle into your team and you can’t get rid of it. To come into Atlanta and have that type of performance kind of lets me know there is something disconnected right now with this team. The body language was just dead.”
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At times, several players seemed to be going through the motions against the 19-38 Hawks, most notably when James slumped his shoulders and simply walked back up the floor after the Lakers turned the ball over on offense during the fourth quarter.
The break can’t come quickly enough, and it is hard to think of another NBA locker room in more desperate need of a timeout.
The Lake Show has made ugly viewing of late, with the twisted fairy tale of the Anthony Davis trade deadline chase having apparently led to further discontent among a collection of players who were struggling to begin with.
To Fisher, the lack of defensive application on Tuesday was a telltale sign that the Lakers have started to check out.
“The trust has been broken in some ways,” Fisher said. “We don’t know exactly, we are not in the locker room. In the NBA today, the way teams play offense, if you do not trust one another on the defensive end, you have got no shot at stopping teams. They don’t trust one another right now. It could be exhaustion; it could be the injuries. It could be the trade stuff.”
At present, the Lakers are playing like they don’t like each other, or at least don’t like playing with each other. It is a unit that is capable of being pretty good, occasionally very good, with those moments generally coming against marquee opponents. A game in Atlanta, the last one before a week-long layoff, didn’t fit that description and it showed.
James has never been out of the playoff position at the All-Star interval since his first season in the NBA. Yet the Lakers are now positioned 10th in the Western Conference, having received no discernible upward kick since James came back from a groin injury that was slow to mend.
“You got to decompress and get away from the game a little bit,” James said. “Those guys will have a lot more time than I will obviously; I will be right back into it in two days. Stay fresh, get your mind right and body right and come back with the notion that we will make the playoffs.”
That goal will quickly turn into a forlorn hope unless there is a turnaround, a shift in mentality more than anything else.
That’s no easy task. The entire young core of the team knows James wields immense power and that they wouldn’t have been put up as trade bait unless he was cool with it. It is a tough thing to overcome for a young player, to put aside that perceived slight and play your heart out for the guy who would have preferred it if you were no longer around.
Coach Luke Walton knows the secret lays in the mind.
“I asked the guys to get quiet for a little bit of time over the weekend,” Walton said. “I know everyone has got family and events, but spend some time by yourself, and I think we got a group that will be ready to go when we get back.”
These Lakers are a strange group that can beat anyone when they are together and motivated. It just doesn’t happen very often. They’ve beaten the Warriors at Oracle Arena, but also lost at home to the Cavaliers and the Knicks. To be fair, the Knicks have been amazingly consistent ever since that night. They’ve lost every single game.
James hasn’t helped much since his return, with a 2-3 record (he played Jan. 31 then missed Feb. 2) in that stretch that might have been 0-5 if not for an overtime nail-biter against the Clippers and Rajon Rondo’s buzzer-beating game-winner against the Celtics.
“We know it is getting smaller and smaller, that opportunity (of the playoffs),” Walton added. “It is going to be hard.”
Even harder when you have conceded 131 points per game over the past four. Or when you get stopped on offense eight times in a row midway through the final quarter, trailing by just seven.
Or when there is no hustle and no sense of cohesion.
“Embarrassing,” said Worthy. And he is right.
But until the Lakers’ players — all of them — feel the embarrassment, embrace it and fight back against it, this sorry season won’t get any better.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno