What do you do with a lost season? Chalk it up to bad luck, move on, and never look back? It's hard to do that - the sting of defeat and disappointment doesn't fade immediately. It lingers in the air not like the aroma of a candle, but the chill of a ghost. It's haunting presence is strong enough to strike fear in your heart. If this happened now, what's to stop it from happening again?
The Lakers haven't had one disappointing season, though. They've had two outright uninspiring back-to-back years. Mike Brown's sole campaign wasn't peaches and cream, but it shouldn't be lumped in with these 164 regular season games from hell. All daily jokes aside, this has been difficult to digest. None of this was ever supposed to be this way.
The Dwight Howard trade was supposed to be a coup. Instead, it turned the Lakers into the butt end of endless wisecracks from everyone, including lifelong fans of the franchise. Empty billboards, photoshops and hash tags that feel hollow today. Steve Nash wasn't ever projected to be THE Steve Nash, but to fall this far? Kobe Bryant was in position to have possibly the most help he's ever had to close out his career with the Lakers. The Achilles injury was never going to be easy to come back from, but when the "Kobe face" meme jokes that have sprouted throughout the season and the face palms are all we're left with, it's uncomfortable and impossible to laugh along with it.
Maybe the luster of the Lakers franchise - the banners, the statues, the California sunshine and swagger - can overcome this storm. It's too soon to say there's no turning back, but the reality has set in that all that's left is uncertainty until proven otherwise. All the franchise has known since overcoming the Celtics in Game 7 is uncertainty. No matter who you place the blame on - whether it's Jim Buss, Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak, the training staff, Dwight Howard, David Stern, Father Time - the result is all that matters. It's been a slow crawl across Death Valley without a drip of water. Any salvation in the distance could be a mirage, but there will always be the glimmer of hope that at some point mercy will poke it's head out.
Is a single rookie going to make it all go away? Is Cap Space going to put on a jersey, drop 20 points per game, provide elite interior and perimeter defense while also cleaning the glass on a nightly basis? There are possible solutions to wake the Lakers out of this ongoing nightmare, but what are the odds everything decides to line up single file now when these last two summers have had much more hopeful outlooks? There's going against all odds and there's going against all logic and reality. The music is blaring and everyone has to face it. The song playing is whatever the opposite of "Happy" by Pharrell is. A room with a caved in roof.
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There are only four games left until the guillotine finally drops on the season. The crowd that's gathered to watch this gory execution will disperse while the loved ones look on in shock and horror. This team has locked in the most losses and worst winning percentage since the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, is tied with a franchise-high 53 losses and franchise-low 25 wins, and will likely be undisputed in holding at least one of those embarrassing records once April 16 passes.
Despite all of that, the Lakers are still outside of the bottom-five of the league and won't have great odds on their side when ping pong balls shape the future of a handful of franchises and potential superstar players. It isn't a killing blow if the team doesn't wind up in the top-three, as the great Ben Rosales has detailed, but it's another infraction against a team that needs every bit of potential energy possible. Dreams of a huge salary reservoir to unleash in free agency over the next two summers were dashed when Kobe Bryant - rightfully or not - signed his massive extension. These little things add up, and with the kind of "luck" the team has had recently, it amounts to that key word - uncertainty.
Things just don't always go as planned for one reason or another. Eventually it's too obvious to ignore and too damaged to leave as is. The Lakers have to come up with answers. Looking to the future ends when the final buzzer sounds on this beaten-to-death season. Sometimes you have to destroy before you can rebuild. No matter how far away you've been from this disaster it's clear all that's left now is rubble. In 2011 the Lakers won 57 games. As of today they've lost 53, but more importantly, they've lost clout within the legion.
What to do, what to do.
Some will charge full steam ahead with high hopes and expectations that luck turns around over the next few months. Some will demand change, now, and have had enough of whatever this franchise has become. Others could be ready to wade through another unbearable season because that's the only bar the team has set lately.
In the end there's nothing we can say or do to change what comes next. All we can do is hope, together, that this era of futility comes to an end on April 16. No more lost seasons. No more missed opportunity. Something - anything - that resembles Lakers basketball.