I arrived in Boston on Thursday, January 16th, a day after the excitement surrounding Nick Young’s ejection in Phoenix and the subsequent drama surrounding the team’s post-game comments.
(Think back to Young lamenting that he felt like he was 1-on-5, Kendall Marshall reasoning that Young should “chill out,” resulting in the following meme to go viral amongst Lakers fans. By the way, Marshall laughed at the meme in Boston after the entire Lakers team had cleared the air.)
The Lakers had just lost an embarrassing 12 of their past 13 games, and signed D-Fenders call-up Manny Harris that night to help make up for Young’s one-game suspension. Without Young, the Lakers would have been down to eight available players. Approximately two of which, give or take, were familiar with handling a basketball, so Harris would get an opportunity.
Harris later told me that he could barely sleep on Thursday night. I believed him. His tentative demeanor and giddy, yet guarded smile gave it away as each Laker and head coach welcomed him to the Lakers for the first time at team shootaround in the TD Garden.
“It’s an honor to be playing for the Lakers,” Harris nervously gushed after shootaround.
At the time, the Lakers were 14-25, 11 games under .500 and flirting with the bottom of the Western Conference. James Worthy had referred to the Lakers’ play as embarrassing, and it wasn’t the first time. Robert Horry had just publicly called out the rookie Ryan Kelly and the newbie Kendall Marshall for not coming to Young’s defense during the altercation in Phoenix, questioning them as teammates. Even Magic Johnson seemed to make it his New Year’s resolution to publicly ridicule Jim Buss’ leadership and Mike D’Antoni’s coaching ability at every possible opportunity. It seemed like this Lakers team was on the brink of completely falling apart.
It was my first time traveling on the road to cover the Lakers and I was expecting a somber group.
Before the game, I walked into the Lakers locker room at TD Garden and Xavier Henry was joking around with Wes Johnson, and Chris Kaman was in a pretty in-depth conversation discussing the institution of marriage with a fellow teammate. (Sidebar: those two teammates had two very different perceptions on what marriage entails).
Ryan Kelly was over the moon about getting a start against the Boston Celtics and playing in the TD Garden for the first time. Robert Sacre was raving about something he ate for dinner, and Jordan Hill was yelling (and impressively mumbling, at the same time) something across the locker room that I could hardly understand.
I stood there and took it all in. It way my first time traveling on the road to cover the Lakers and it didn’t feel quite like the Lakers locker room at home. At Staples Center, not much happens in the locker rooms pre-game. The media stands around, only half-waiting to talk to players at their locker, who’ve usually strategically planned their arrival and pre-game warm-ups around when the Lakers locker room is open to the media. (Meaning, if you don’t want to talk to the media, there’s about a 30-minute window that you make sure to stay away from your locker.)
It wasn’t like that on the road. At one point in time, every active player was hanging in the locker room, laughing with his teammates or chatting with the media. It didn’t seem like a team that had only won 14 games.
The Lakers beat the Boston Celtics that night, spoiling Rajon Rondo’s return, and the Lakers held their heads a little higher. Rookie Ryan Kelly had an impressive performance and a surprising dunk that had his teammates ragging on him post-game for his vertical and hang-time.
Kendall Marshall’s post-game media session started with, “First of all, we want to say that we’d like to have Nick with us, but he kind of lit a fire under us that last game.”