Today is Monday, January 20th, 2014. The LA Lakers have played 41 games, meaning the 2013-14 NBA season is half over for them. Entering today, the Lakers have a 16-25 record, good for 12th place in a loaded western conference. Now here’s a splash of cold hard truth; the Lakers will need to go 25-16 the rest of the reason just to finish with a .500 record. Possible? Of course. Likely? Not so much. And even if they did, what would that accomplish? If anything, finishing the season with an even record, or even one slightly above .500 would hurt the Lakers moving forward far more than it would help them. Anyone who follows the NBA knows that the absolute worst position to finish the season in is 1-2 games out of the playoffs. That means no post-season, and no lottery pick in the draft.
Many experts early on predicted the Lakers to finish just out of the playoff race, or with a best case scenario 7th seed if they were really lucky. Of course, no one could have accounted for the ridiculous slate of injuries the Lakers have had to endure so far this season, with the bulk of their guards all missing significant time, and as a result, the Lakers having to recall and sign several players from the NBA’s Developmental League. Living in New England, I am lucky if I make it to one Lakers game a year, usually when the Celtics host the Lakers. I made that trip over the weekend, and I’ll be honest, I recognized only a few names on the roster, as I do not follow the D-League on a regular basis.
Even as players start to come back from injuries (Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar are expected back in the near future), one has to ask, “what are they coming back to?” Again, they would need to play superb, if not perfect basketball the 2nd half of the season just to keep the glimmer of post-season hope alive. Before last Friday’s game vs. the Celtics, Kobe was asked if he had considered sitting out the rest of the season to fully recuperate and be ready for next year with a (supposed) new team around him. His answer was a resounding “NO.” Anyone who knows Kobe Bryant the player knows how strong his competitive nature is, and how much it is killing him not to be out there on the court every night. But again, what will he , and the other players mentioned, be coming back to? The best they can hope to accomplish is to make the Lakers at least competitive, and frankly entertaining for the 2nd half of the season.
One must keep in mind that finishing at the bottom of the conference (very likely) is not always a bad thing, especially when June’s NBA draft is as loaded as this years. No team will ever admit to “tanking”, even when they obviously are. It’s frankly an insult to the game, and the fan base. The Lakers have been accused of tanking this season, to get a high lottery pick. Not the case. It’s not tanking when the team is either just plain bad, or in the Lakers’ case, injury-depleted. The more players go down and are forced to stay down, the more the team continues to struggle, but the better draft pick as an end result. What the Lakers may do with that pick is a completely different story. The Lakers have been talking for the past couple seasons about starting from scratch in the summer of 2014. In order to get back to the top, sometimes you have to start from the bottom. We knew this season would be a struggle, and it has been and more ways than we could have imagined, or dreaded. As fans we just have to keep reminding ourselves, only 41 more games before the rebuild we’ve all been eagerly awaiting begins.