Minor trade having major implications

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
10:58
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- As far a blockbuster trades go, the Los Angeles Lakers deciding to swap Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors this week for two little-known bench players and save the team $4 million in salary and luxury tax fees barely made a blip on the radar.

But those little-known players, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, are suddenly being played a lot and that seemingly minor deadline deal has the rest of the Lakers feeling out of whack.

[+] EnlargeNick Young
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesNick Young is one of several Lakers with a vested interest to get as much playing time as possible as the season winds down.
Nick Young made his comeback to the lineup in Sunday's 108-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets after missing the past six games because of a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee, and admitted that he may have rushed his return.

"They was actually telling me to wait until it's pain-free, but I just love the game of basketball and I want to get out there as fast as I can," Young said after putting up 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting in 20 minutes.

Young undoubtedly loves to play more than most in his sport, but his decision wasn't entirely altruistic. Young's contract expires at the end of the season and there will be money to be had on the free-agent market if he proves he can still play over this final stretch to the season.

To prove it, he'll need playing time, something he feared could be dwindling with Bazemore averaging 31 minutes in his first two games with L.A., Brooks averaging 21 minutes and Xavier Henry set to return in a week from the bone bruise in his right knee.

"When you see players out there -- like when we had four point guards -- you don't want to be lost in the shuffle," Young said. "I wanted to get back."

Young wanted to be back so bad that when he was re-examined this week by Lakers physician Steve Lombardo, he did not opt for an MRI exam on his knee as a final clearance.

"I'd rather not know it," Young said. "I told Doc I was ready."

While it has been a fairytale turn of events for Bazemore and Brooks to go from nightly DNPs to averaging 16 and 10.5 points, respectively, through their first two games with the purple and gold, it has been unsettling to the glut of wing players the Lakers already had on the roster.

After an up-and-down season, Wesley Johnson had finally found his rhythm, averaging 16.6 points in seven games in February leading up to the trade deadline. In the two games since L.A. made the Blake deal? Johnson has scored four points while taking five shots and will now find minutes only at the stretch-4 position, rather than his natural wing spot.

"I've got to clear some room for Nick Young to be able to play and we're going to have Xavier Henry back and we're going to have a log-jam back there," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We want to see MarShon Brooks, he was playing well. We want to see Bazemore. We want Xavier Henry. So these are all the guys, so Wesley Johnson's going to have to be able to play the 4 a little bit. We still want to see him and we'll see how that goes."

Pau Gasol, who was trying to keep positive as recently as a couple of days ago when he realized he would be finishing out the season in L.A. when no deadline deal included him, sees what's going on and says he doesn't think it's a breeding ground for success.

"We'll see how it goes for the next [26] games that we have left," Gasol said. "The coach decides to rotate these guys and I doubt there is going to be any consistency on their minutes. So, they're just going to have to be ready to play, bring the energy and do their best."

It's a fair to point out that at 19-37, the Lakers really shouldn't owe any playing time to any of the players who contributed to that terrible record, but at the same time, there seems to be a lack of loyalty.

"I think it changed a lot," Johnson said of the Blake trade. "I think for us having the players that we did have and then really getting the same type of players that came in, it just added more bodies and people are coming back from their injuries and everything, so we're really just trying to find some type of chemistry. Find some type of flow now. At this point, it's kind of hard."

Other players are recognizing what's going on. When Robert Sacre received his first DNP in more than a month Friday, Jordan Hill yelled out to him across the locker room, "Great work tonight, Rob." Not to chide him, but more so bring attention to the snub. When Kendall Marshall didn't get off the bench in the final quarter Sunday, Young interrupted his talk with the media to shout out, "All right, Kendall. Maybe next fourth quarter."

With two months left in the season, the Lakers seem to be throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks, trotting out their 29th different starting lineup of the season Sunday.

"We are still trying to figure it out," Marshall said. "We are playing with a different lineup and the minutes have been ranging, so we are still trying to get a feel for each other."

The problem is, at this point, with no mutual goal of making the postseason keeping the group together, it is more about "me" than "we" moving forward.

"I just want to play," Young said. "We ain't got too many games left and I don't know what's going to happen after the season, so I just want to have that Laker uniform on."

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0