OAKLAND -- There could not have been two locker rooms in any NBA venue Saturday more rife with speculation, conversation and general angst than those at Oracle Arena.
In the home locker room on the east side, the Warriors were dealing with re-heated rumors involving the uncertain future of superstar forward Kevin Durant.
In the visitor’s locker room on the south side, the Lakers were coping with the superstar presence of LeBron James and the sense that every other member of the team is available as the front office chases New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who put himself on the trade market.
The Warriors, at least on this night, handled it with considerably more poise.
Seeking their fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and in their third season under an unyielding spotlight that got hotter and brighter with the July 2106 arrival of Durant, the Warriors have become pros at navigating matters that can be prickly enough to derail their mission.
The youthful Lakers, however, are rookies at this, and their lack of experience revealed itself shortly after a 115-101 loss to the Warriors.
When Los Angeles coach Luke Walton urged his team to play smarter and more selflessly, several veteran reserves -- notably Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee -- responded by criticizing Walton’s player rotations. There reportedly was enough vehemence in the locker room that intervention from cooler heads was required.
Such squabbles are more likely to happen within teams anxious about what lies ahead. For the Lakers, raw feelings are acute because most of the players are facing the threat of trade and the deadline is noon (PST) Thursday. Players not named LeBron are wondering about and perhaps researching New Orleans, while also trying to remain focused on basketball.
“We addressed it before the season started,” Walton said. “We do our best not to pay attention to outside noise. Control what we can control. And that’s it. That goes for everyone in our locker room, in our group. They seem to be handling it pretty well.”
That was before the game. Asked about the state of the team after the game -- not long after the locker room dispute -- veteran guard Rajon Rondo echoed his coach.
"They seem pretty fine," he said of his teammates. "They're still in the gym working. They know at the end of the day they'll still have a job in the NBA regardless of where it is. They're learning in this league that trade talks happen all the time and each year that they'll be in the game, they'll understand that it's a business."
The older heads, such as Beasley and McGee, should understand. Beasley is on his seventh team, and McGee his sixth. Younger players like Kyle Kuzma (23 years old), Brandon Ingram (21) and Josh Hart (23) have really only known one team.
“It’s not easy if you in particular are reading your own name in trade rumors,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Anything like that is difficult.”
That’s where experience helps, according to Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala.
“We know how to deal with it because we’re so used to being in the spotlight,” he said. “We understand that whatever goes on with us is going to be under the microscope and blown out of proportion. We know how to ignore it. We don’t even address it. Maybe I might have a cryptic tweet. Draymond (Green) might say something. And then it blows up. But we’re like, ‘whatever.’”
The Warriors still have their own lingering concerns, most of it swirling around Durant, who even while playing and producing is not wearing it well.
He’s hearing his name mentioned most frequently in regards to where he will play upon becoming a free agent in July. The subject heated up the past few days, when Davis requested a trade, the Knicks made a deal to clear cap space this summer, and Boston star Kyrie Irving -- who grew up in the shadow of New York City -- backed off a statement he made in October, telling Celtics fans his “plan” is to re-sign.
Those moves and comments shifted the rumor mill into overdrive, taking Durant along for the ride. He is coveted by the Knicks. He freely praises Irving. The obvious conclusion is that New York is fixating on Durant and Irving in July.
For the Warriors, there isn’t so much concern as there is dialogue, spoken and unspoken. Durant’s impending free agency has slid an undercurrent of annoyance beneath the team as it pursues a third consecutive championship.
The flashpoint came Nov. 12 in Los Angeles in the final moments of regulation against the Clippers, when Draymond Green turned on Durant and unleashed a verbal assault that sent the entire team into a tailspin for a couple weeks.
All parties insist they have moved on, that those wounds were only superficial and have healed. For the most part they have. Or had.
As the rumor mill grinds on, bringing unwanted topics back into view, KD has not been his usual self. The sly sense of humor so prevalent a few weeks ago has faded, replaced by a mask of gloom.
“I’ve been on other teams with guys who aren’t used to being in the spotlight and then something comes up that may be considered gossipy or trade talks, guys don’t know how to react,” Iguodala said. “And it messes with your psyche. People don’t understand that.
“But because we’ve been in it and we’ve been dealing with it for four or five years, it’s second nature to us.”
This is today’s NBA. One player in New Orleans makes it known he wants out, and his request affects two locker rooms, his own and one in Los Angeles. Neither is a comfortable place right now.
One team in New York makes a blockbuster trade, said to be the result of its star, Kristaps Porzingis, wanting out, and it affects locker rooms in Boston, Oakland, Dallas and New York.
The debate is whether the unrest is good or bad when, actually, it is both. The NBA was newsier than the NFL during Super Bowl week. And NBA stars can easily be perceived as impatient or petulant or needy.
Jeff Van Gundy, the two-time NBA head coach who serves as an analyst for ABC/ESPN, offered a theory during the Warriors Insider Podcast this week.
“It may be something that impacts the NBA in a positive way because of the interest,” he said of the unrest. “But not as many people like the game of basketball as they like the drama of the NBA.”