Hernández: Anthony Davis seems to lack the heart and drive the Lakers need

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26, 2022: Anthony Davis is interviewed during Lakers Media Day.
Lakers star Anthony Davis has only played in 70 games twice in his 10-year career, the last time in the 2017-18 season. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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There’s plenty to like about Anthony Davis.

He’s warm. He’s smart. He’s quick to point the finger at himself when he screws up.

But he doesn’t get it.

Davis is entering his fourth season with the Lakers and still doesn’t get it.

“I'm not going to overthink and listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this whatever player they want me to be, this Greek god,” he said.

He smiled.

“I say Greek, but not Giannis [Antetokounmpo],” he said.

Here’s the problem: That’s who the Lakers need him to be.

The Lakers staged their media day Monday, the stench of a particularly foul season still permeating their practice facility in El Segundo.

Davis’ nonchalance was noticeable, especially when his demeanor was compared with those of the team’s two other high-profile players, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

James was evasive and Westbrook defiant, their approaches in dealing with reporters obviously designed to protect their wounded egos.

Davis was carefree, his lighter disposition and openness making him the most pleasant of the team’s stars.

The same qualities also made him a continued source of concern, as his play has often reflected his laid-back personality. After winning a championship in the pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 season, Davis has endured two down seasons, averaging 22.5 points in 76 total games.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis and head coach Darvin Ham chat during media day.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis and coach Darvin Ham chat during media day. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Never mind Zeus or Heracles or any of the other Greek gods. Davis doesn’t have the motor of a Greek Freak.

The whatever-happens-happens approach is particularly disconcerting in the wake of a season in which Davis was limited to 40 games because of knee and foot injuries.

The changes Davis made to his offseason training program to remain healthy?

“Honestly, the same exact thing as last season,” he said with a chuckle.

He described the injuries as freak accidents and recounted how doctors told him that his offseason work prevented more severe problems.

But what if he was just a little quicker or just a little stronger? Perhaps he could have avoided the injuries altogether.

Whatever Davis is doing isn’t working, as he has played more than 70 games only twice in his 10-season career, the last time in 2017-18.

The Lakers can’t win without Davis on the court.

Westbrook has a disagreeable style of play and public persona that have made him the symbol of the Lakers’ failures, but the reality is that Davis’ failing health is the greatest obstacle to the team’s success.

Davis is 29, and his medical history is part of who he is.

By their actions, the Lakers have made it clear they aren’t expecting any miracles.

Before any of the players spoke to reporters, general manager Rob Pelinka addressed the widespread perception of how the Lakers don’t want to trade their first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.

“Let me be abundantly clear,” Pelinka said. “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So, of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals to give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end.”

However, Pelinka added: “You only get one shot to do it. So, we’re being very thoughtful around the decision on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

In other words, Pelinka has one shot to turn the Lakers into champions. The fact he hasn’t traded the picks yet indicates that he doesn’t believe they’re close to contending.

Davis’ undependability has to be a factor.

James turns 38 in December but averaged 30.3 points a game last season. If Davis could be counted on to remain on the court, the chances are that Westbrook and the two draft picks would belong to another team by now.

This wasn’t what the Lakers envisioned when they traded for Davis, who was supposed to succeed James as the franchise’s cornerstone player. Davis has the talent that makes him a worthy recipient of the torch in James’ possession but has neither the durability nor mindset.

He seems to know this.

In the past, he has spoken of the need to be more assertive in games. He talked Monday about the importance of playing with an edge, how he, James and Westbrook would have chips on their shoulders.

“It's not just going to be given to us,” Davis said. “We gotta go take it.”

Yet the ideas in his brain appear to not necessarily translate into feelings in his heart, which could explain why he said in the same nine-minute question-and-answer session, “I'm not putting any pressure on myself at all.”

Davis has demonstrated he’s the kind of person who would make a good neighbor. That’s something, but it’s not what these Lakers want or need.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.