There's no doubt that the 2012-2013 campaign was disappointing--after all, the Lakers entered with championship expectations became mere playoff hopes. However, after all the locker room turmoil, coaching changes, front office blunders and possible long term cap ramifications because of this specific team, there's reason to think that the season was far more than merely "disappointing".
In your estimation, was the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers campaign the worst season in franchise history (interpret the word "worst" how you will)?
Semantically, I don't think you can call this the worst season in franchise history when there's a .264 winning % season out there, even if that season did come in the late '50s at the tail end of the George Mikan era.
Semantics aside, however, I don't think there can be much doubt that this was the hardest and most disappointing season to go through as a Lakers fan in my 30 year lifetime. The expectations, the injuries, and the poor team chemistry even when the team had close to decent health ... it was all just too much to bear. It is rare in general to be genuinely excited for your favorite team to lose and be done for the year, but a large portion of Lakers Nation was there by Game 4 against the Spurs. I know I was.
In fact, last season was so bad that, if the Lakers had not closed with a strong run to actually make the playoffs, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more disappointing season ever in the NBA, and possibly even all of sports.
It's not rare for a team with large expectations to have a bunch of things go wrong and end up failing, but by and large, teams as favored as the Lakers were to advance deep into the playoff picture do not spend half their season looking like an abomination, especially in the NBA where a few individual talents can be so important. Midway through the season, the Lakers were headed towards being one of the biggest disappointments in the history of sports. They closed strongly enough to make the playoffs, but that's still got to be good enough for the most disappointing season for a franchise that has little experience with disappointment.
This is not the worst season in Lakers history, no matter how you define it. I would say it isn't even the worst season in the last 10 years. The 2004-05 campaign saw the Lakers finish 34-48, tied for last in the Pacific division, and dead last in the league in defensive efficiency. This 45-win season is no where near the depths of despair felt after that awful year.
The Lakers may have finished far from the championship expectations bestowed upon them when Nash and Howard were aquired, but it is more or less a result of injuries than anything else. This was a team that for the first half of the season saw a revolving door of injuries that resulted in signficant minutes for players like Robert Sacre, Darius Morris, and Chris Duhon. It wasn't until the second half of the season that the Lakers had a nearly recovered Howard and two solid point guards in Steve Nash and Steve Blake on the floor. The Lakers, despite additional injuries to Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash, still finished 28-12, a record that was 4th best over essentially the second half of the season. They showed that with a little health and a little cohesion they could still be a team to reckon with. This was a team that won 8 of it's final 9 games, with wins against 3 of the 4 teams are still alive in the Western Conference playoffs today. That closing stretch provides the light at the end of the tunnel for this Lakers team.
Next season the Lakers can basically give it another go before pressing the reset button in 2014. I still believe that if healthy and given some continuity and time with each other, this roster could contend for a title. You don't win 28 out of 40 games by luck. This is a far better outlook than that dreadful first season post-Shaq where not only did the Lakers miss the playoffs, but they had no shining light to look forward to. The following season the center rotation consisted of Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown with Smush Parker running the point. Next season looks far brighter with those spots most likely being occupied by three future hall of famers in Howard, Gasol, and Nash... no matter how old the later two may be.
Disappointment from this team is deeper than wins and losses. This team had enormous expectations that, even those who were conservative about, thought they would show the potential to come close to at the very least. Instead, this team turned an 82 game season into an incredibly difficult journey. Some teams can struggle through a season, nearly miss the playoffs, and not have to worry about it. They have a lottery draft pick and didn't have exceedingly high expectations to deal with. For the Lakers, it was the opposite. They couldn't miss the playoffs, their draft pick had gone out to the Phoenix Suns for a point guard who missed half of the season (and all but one playoff games), and just when it seemed like the Lakers were going to get into a groove another injury claimed another player.
The season was disastrous, the playoffs felt like a foregone conclusion after one game, and to top it off Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles just before reaching the finish line. This was not only the most disappointing season I can recall, it was the most exhausting season.
The Great Mambino
It goes without saying that this was the most disappointing season in Lakers history. They entered November with championship expectations and finished March with merely playoff hopes. Everything that could have gone wrong did, eventually leading to an almost unheard of sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. I refuse to lump owner Jerry Buss's passing in with this horrible year--doing so is a disservice to his incredible legacy and an incredible man. His death transcends this silly little 82 game schedule.
The Lakers have certainly had "worst" seasons, numerically speaking. They've had 17 seasons with a lower winning percentage. They've missed the playoffs 5 times, which mercifully didn't include the 2012-2013 campaign. They've even been swept in the first round before--victims of the 1966-1967 San Francisco Warriors.
However, the season achieved something that few other Lakers teams have: shake the fan base's confidence in ownership's sterling reputation.
Injuries of course didn't help. Every single rotation player on the squad got hurt this year, disrupting any chance for a group of new teammates to establish any sense of momentum and consistency. The list of the disabled includes franchise cornerstone Kobe Bryant, whose ruptured Achilles tendon might keep everyone from seeing his greatness ever again. Even without a swarm of health problems circling the team, the Hall of Fame starting line-up of Kobe, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard struggled to get along, both on the court and in the locker room. Still, LA traded for Nash and Howard knowing of their injury history, and depended on Pau and Kobe into their mid-thirties--certainly inviting multiple chances for occupancy in the full training room. But beyond the simple mechanics of winning basketball games, the front office made blunder after blunder. They stumbled into two ill-fated coaching hires, one in five games of Mike Brown and then into the April Western Conference Coach of the Month Mike D'Antoni. As if MDA's failures weren't enough, the Lakers disrespectfully flirted with the notion of re-hiring Phil Jackson for the job, only to pass him over in a infamous midnight phone call. This debacle underlined the rumored discord between the new Buss Family ownership, as the siblings reportedly feuded with one another behind the scenes.
The 2012-2013 Lakers team and front office have done what only Magic Johnson's retirement could--it's gotten us to doubt the greatness of the Buss family and how they'll steer this team going forward. True, Jerry had not been the every day decision man for several years now. However, the buck stopped with him. There was always the safety net securely tied beneath his son Jim and GM Mitch Kupchak, emboldening Laker fans everywhere to believe that if the good Doctor had given it the thumbs up, all would be well.
The events of this season were bad enough--from the penthouse in November to the outhouse in April. But even in the franchise's worst years, there was always a guarantee of steady leadership going forward. That no longer exists. This was the worst season in Lakers history.