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Lakers’ trade deadline fallout; Kent Bazemore deals with disappointment

Lakers forward Anthony Davis forces Warriors guard Klay Thompson to pass the ball.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis forces Warriors guard Klay Thompson to pass the ball on a drive to the basket in the second half Saturday at Chase Center.
(John Hefti / Associated Press)
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Hey everyone, this is L.A. Times reporter Dan Woike with your weekly Lakers newsletter. Happy post-Super Bowl Monday, everyone. I’m back after an NBA trade deadline hiatus to help you push through one of the foggiest Mondays of the year (snacks and/or drinks still floating around in my system).

Before we get to what happened (or didn’t for the Lakers) at the deadline, I want to share a story about making the most of a situation.

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Kent Bazemore likes to study.

He was on the bench, staring at his idol, Kobe Bryant, after his body failed him when his Achilles tendon rolled up the back of his leg. He saw Bryant get up, shoot free throws and walk off the court — a tremendous victory for tenacity and toughness.

“Just the passion, the body language. The calm. The intensity,” Bazemore recently told me. “I always saw him as this kind of mystical being, just off that aura.”

Bazemore is on the bench again, this time with Bryant’s Lakers, and he’s looking to his basketball hero to lead him through a different kind of challenge. After beginning the season as a starter, Bazemore has now mostly been removed from coach Frank Vogel’s rotation. It’s a tremendous disappointment — the competitor in Bazemore wants badly to play.

The evolving human, though, is trying to harness the moment and grow.

“Some nights, it gets hard having to hold back that competitive nature. Especially if a guy gets going, I know defensively, I made a living off of taking guys out of the game, shutting off the water, so to speak. That gets the best of me sometimes,” Bazemore said. “But that’s just the competitor in me. I’m not going to tame him. He’s helped me get to where I am today. But as a person, my heart is full. I’m doing what I love. I don’t mind putting in the work for it, even though I’m out of the rotation.”

The year has been a test for him, just like it has been for the handful of other veterans who signed with the Lakers this offseason in hopes of contributing on a title team. Now, it’s not just playing time. They’re also not winning.

It’s hard to stay ready when it doesn’t feel like you’re needed.

Bazemore’s approach has been to channel that disappointment into positivity. Behind the scenes, he continues to work. And in front of anyone, on the back end of the Lakers’ bench, he’s wildly energetic and one of the first to celebrate his teammates.

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“I’d like to state publicly that he’s been a 10 out of 10 with his attitude and his character,” Vogel said. “And he has really shown in light of a difficult circumstance where guys could go sideways or have a dark mindset, he’s been a bright spot of our season even though he hasn’t been playing, you know, with just his character and willingness to be active in the film sessions, to honor the work, to bring energy, positive energy to the floor.”

Lakers forward Kent Bazemore tries to power his way to the basket on a drive against the Thunder.
Lakers forward Kent Bazemore tries to power his way to the basket on a drive against the Thunder earlier this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It’s not phony. And it’s not easy.

“I still have my days. Still have my days where I’m driving on the 405 and when I get on the 10, I see L.A. and I might not being playing and I might want to sneak away,” he said. “But it’s just a thought. In your mind, you’ve got to let it go. And then you still follow your routine.”

That routine starts when Bazemore opens his eyes. He puts his feet on the floor and consciously scans his body to see how he’s feeling. As he goes through his morning routine, he listens to his favorite books through wireless headphones, searching for the right text to match the mood.

“As I walk from my bed to the bathroom and wash my face and brush my teeth, do whatever, I feel my aura. Am I pumped up? Do I need to be?” he asks himself. “If I need to be pumped up, I listen to David Goggins. If I’m in a great space and I just want to learn something, it’s the ‘Practice of Stoic.’ ‘Chop Wood, Carry Water’ if I need to find a little more motivation, just to continue with the work. It’s different gears.

“… I’ve listened to these books so many times, I can just pick it up. And every time I listen, it sounds different.”

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It’s shaped his mindset, pushing him from an undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion to a pro with more than $75 million in career earnings over a career that’s lasted almost a decade.

“I’ve had to learn how to continuously work, continuously prove myself in this league over and over,” he said. “… When I first came out of the rotation, I didn’t expect it to be for this long of a stint. But I quickly just kind of went back to that — you’ve been here before. This is nothing new.”

Nope, it isn’t. Bazemore is quick to remember he was once ranked 499th in a list of the NBA’s top 500 players. Thanks to his morning routine, he’s got a plan for how to handle everything. A story from “Chop Wood, Carry Water” has been the roadmap.

“As a young lad, you come in and shoot arrows at a seven-foot target every day. Then you chop wood, carry water for the rest of the day every day,” he said. “My seven-foot targets are when I get to the gym, I prep. My weight room time. When I work on the court. Those are my targets. I’m going to be as sharp as I can at that. I won’t take shortcuts. ... And then when you get your opportunity, you don’t prepare for that. You’re not preparing for when you get back out there.

“You just focus on those seven-foot targets.”

Handle what you can handle, master what you can master and move on from there — it’s what Bazemore believes. And that belief has made this season, still, a chance to be a special one.

“I might not play this year. But this could be one of the biggest years of my life for my mentality, for my psyche because I still overcame, still approached every day with my best foot forwards regardless of how I felt, regardless of my situation and what it looks like,” Bazemore said defiantly. “That means more to me than anything, that after 10 years of having to prove myself over and over and over again, not hearing my name called, and I still have the fight, the will, the determination to overcome what’s in front of me.”

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Trade deadline reaction

You’re not the only one who was surprised the Lakers didn’t do anything at the NBA trade deadline.

Executives from around the league questioned the approach, noting that even marginal upgrades could’ve mattered around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But according to NBA insiders, the Lakers made it clear to teams they were mostly unwilling to take on long-term contracts.

Internally, there were growing frustrations inside the locker room over the Lakers’ struggles and inability to address them. The Lakers will now look to the buyout market for upgrades that could shake up the back part of the roster, with the Lakers needing to create roster spots by waiving players if they decide to bring in players waived by other teams.

Whether they’re able to recruit these players with so many more title-ready teams lurking remains to be seen. But the Lakers will be shopping, something some believed they should’ve been more aggressively doing before the deadline.

Song of the week

Bad Bad News” by Leon Bridges

So, a good good story about the Lakers and Leon Bridges.

When the team began their Grammy trip last month in Orlando, Kent Bazemore went out for a walk around town in his sweats. He’d recently gotten into Bridges’ music and was excited to stumble upon a concert that night. He quickly got tickets, and though underdressed, he went to the show.

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Later that night, refreshed from a great night out, Bazemore got into the elevator at the Lakers’ hotel only to run into Bridges.

To see what the chance meeting meant to him, check out his post about it.

Since we last spoke ...

— Austin Reaves has a clutch performance late for Lakers in loss to Warriors
— LeBron James breaks NBA combined points record, but Lakers lose to Warriors
— Russell Westbrook and the Lakers look to repair their season
Lakers fail to make a trade at deadline, will focus on buyout market
— LeBron James scores 30, but Lakers look careless in loss to Trail Blazers
— Commentary: Lakers’ latest loss another low point, deepening locker-room frustration
— Lakers don’t measure up against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks
— LeBron James says the Lakers know how they rate, but what’s next?

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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