No Lakers in the All-Star game. Or in the Dunk Contest. Or in the Rising Stars game. Hell, there were no Lakers in the Shooting Stars contest. This is, without a doubt, the worst All-Star break since the early '90s for YOUR...Los Angeles Lakers.
Thus, let's not focus on the present. Let's look towards the future...that might be even worse.
With the season's last 29 games commencing today, do you see this team winning any more than 25 total contests for the entire season (so 7-22 the rest of the way)? Is there any circumstance that could prevent that future--a Los Angeles franchise worst--from happening?
First and foremost, there is nothing that can be done--at least in the next two months--to stop this team from finishing in the bottom five of league standings. AccuScore has simulated the remainder of the season, each game 10,000 times, and has the Lakers finishing with a projected record of 28-54. Keep in mind this projection can change on a game to game basis and does incorporate injuries as an important variable.
That would mean the Lakers would go 10-19 the rest of the way. The projected 28-54 record would have L.A. finishing with the fourth worst record in the league behind Milwaukee (22-60), Philadelphia (23-59) and Orlando (25-57). Utah (29-53) and Cleveland (29-53) are both projected to finish just ahead of the Lakers.
The worst record since the franchise moved to Los Angeles was during the 1974-1975 season when the Lakers finished 30-52. Given other teams will need wins to make the playoffs, I would be shocked if this roster found a way to win 12 of their remaining 29 games. A cursory glance at the remaining schedule reaffirms this notion with way too many games against teams fighting for strategic playoff seeding. But alas, this isn't something to cringe at but embrace--the Lakers are on pace to secure a top five pick in this year's draft lottery.
The Great Mambino
In a decidedly non-scientific survey of the remaining schedule, in the most optimistic of situations, I see only these games as possible wins: 2/19 vs. Houston (tonight), 2/21 vs. Boston, 2/28 vs. Sacramento, 3/4 vs. New Orleans, 3/21 vs. Washington, 3/23 vs. Orlando, 3/25 vs. New York, 3/27 at Milwaukee and 4/14 at Utah.
And again...that's the most cheery of futures. It would leave the Lakers with a 9-20 record after the break and just 27-55 overall. Even the brightest outlook is extremely bleak. That being said, I don't see the team winning more than 25 games on the season. The main problem with this team has been the defense obviously, but the biggest secondary problem has been the team's lack of playmakers. With the front office looking to deal players like Steve Blake, and both Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash in and out of the line-ups with injury, I don't see any way for this team to be consistent enough offensively to win games. The Lakers have been awful without a true point guard on the floor, as exhibited by their inefficient scoring when guys like Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Jodie Meeks all took shots at running the offense (all of whom, due to their injury situations, should still be Lakers past Thursday). That should continue for the rest of the season, no matter what happens at the trade deadline.
The only circumstance that I could see the Lakers winning more than those nine games the rest of the year is, of course, Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba should make it back in March sometime, and though limited by two serious injuries to his leg, could be a difference maker down the stretch. Again, this team isn't going to improve defensively--in fact, they might get worse with Bryant on the floor. However, as the team starts to get into the 60, 70 and 80 game mark, Kobe will be the veteran on the floor that keeps them playing as hard as they are now, and will presumably help them execute more crisply late in games. He'll serve as the arbiter of professionalism and leadership that may not be there after the trade deadline, keeping the young, inexperienced Lakers in line while a lost season winds down. That may very well be enough to help this squad get to the 30-win mark.
First off, I just want to give every Laker fan a hug right now. This season hasn't been a fun one to watch. With Kobe likely being out til the last couple weeks of the season, and possible trades going down, it could get even rougher. Unless you count the Knicks and Nuggets as playoff contenders, the Lakers only have ten games against "tanking" teams remaining. That's about a third of their games. Of those ten games, four are at home. There is always a chance for an upset, but yikes.
If the team can get close to healthy, I can see the Lakers playing a bit better than they have been. That is, if they don't trade anyone away. If Hill, Kaman, Gasol, or Blake get traded, it will most likely be for cap relief and picks, which only makes the team worse. Now, it could be that none of those guys is traded (although they should be). If no one is traded, the offense should be good enough to keep them in games, and even win some, as we have seen throughout the season. The offense doesn't matter if the team picks right back up with their rebounding and defense.
I believe the Lakers will win just over 25 games this season, which is their worst record since the 04-05 season (34-48). Yeah, they're worse than a team that started Chucky Atkins and Chris Mihm. I don't think even Kobe can fix this. There will probably be some playoff teams resting their starters down the stretch--looking at you, Spurs--which would give the Lakers more of a chance to win a couple more games. It's not going to be pretty, but at least we have a chance at a top three pick with the help of Adam Silver, right?
Wins and losses come and go--mostly losses this season--and I think it's totally fair to start keeping an eye on this team ending with a franchise-worst record once the 82-game carnival shuts down. It's hard to confidently pick seven games on the schedule as locks, though games against Milwaukee and Orlando feel safe. Overall, though, the Lakers schedule looks daunting to say the least. They have a back-to-back, facing the Clippers then heading up to Denver for the second half. They have two straight games against the Oklahoma City Thunder followed by two straight games against the San Antonio Spurs. They have multiple games against the Grizzlies, Blazers and Rockets still sprinkled through the season and still have to face the Pacers in Indiana. They end the season on the road in San Antonio (though that could be a blessing in disguise if Pop' is resting his guys pre-playoffs).
The only thing that can stop it from happening is a few lucky bounces off the rim. The injuries have continued. The poor defense has raised its head. The offense stagnates. The rebounds are non-existent. Chris Kaman. It's difficult to project this team having a sudden resurgence, and that's kinda the way it's been over the past two seasons. You'd have to go back to the lone season with Mike Brown to find a time when the team was playing at a high level consistently, and that can be credited to the team being familiar after multiple NBA Finals runs and having the healthiest season I can recall in recent memory. All for a second-round exit.
Disappointing? Sure. Even if losing can turn over a nice draft pick it still makes me feel like a cat getting pet the wrong way. The good news is this season is in the final stretch before it gets put out of its misery.