LOS ANGELES - You'd be hard-pressed to find a more eventful day in the Lakers' history. Sure, there have been titles and tragedies, but how often have multiple events collided together within ten hours?
That's precisely what happened to the Lakers with a trade deadline at 12 p.m., a Kobe statue unveiling at 3:30 p.m. and a game against the Denver Nuggets at 7 p.m. When the dust settled on this trifecta, the Lakers were left with the same roster as before, more questions and fewer answers and a sixth straight loss against Denver stretched out over the last two seasons.
Last year, the Lakers were movers and shakers. They took a team that was six games under .500 and turned it into a top-four finish. This year? Well, it remains to be seen, but according to Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka, nothing possible was logical.
"We talked a lot about continuity at the beginning of the season," Pelinka said. "We really like the players on our team and we're confident in this group of players. Of course, that said, my job is to always look for ways to upgrade our roster. But you can't buy a house that's not for sale. We spent a lot of time looking for ways to use assets to make our team better but the right move wasn't there.
“It's a thoughtful and tricky calculus at times when the trade deadline's upon us. I think our fans understand that this season is incredibly important and we'll be very aggressive with our open roster spot."
That open roster spot can now be used in the buyout market, but that consolation prize is a hard sell for a fanbase that was looking for a star guard to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
So the Lakers took the floor without one of the guards heavily involved in those trade rumors in D'Angelo Russell. His injury status was one of the most perplexing stories of the season that saw him go from undergoing a procedure to undergoing a treatment and from not being on the injury report to downgraded to out in a 24-hour span.
With Russell out, the Lakers struggled. The offense was stagnant as the ball became puddy in everyone's hands. Only Davis and Taurean Prince got anything going in the opening half, as the rest of the team went cold from the field. The Lakers were down by ten and it looked like another tough loss against the Nuggets.
In the third quarter, James finally got going, scoring 11 points and the team showed signs of life. The crowd was ready to erupt all night, emotional over the Kobe celebration. When the Lakers brought the game to within one possession early in the fourth, they were louder than they've been all season.
A title wasn't in play tonight, but Darvin Ham did call this game a 'progress report' for this team, given the context that the Nuggets are the defending champs, swept the Lakers last year and beat them handily on Opening Night this year.
Jaxson Hayes stepped up big time in the fourth quarter, crashing the boards, chasing down blocks, and finishing strong at the rim to spearhead a spirited Lakers comeback. It wasn't enough, however, as they did what they've done the last five times they’ve faced Denver; fall short in the fourth, unable to slow down Jamal Murray or Nikola Jokić.
So what now?
Reinforcements aren't coming via a trade. Injuries still plague this team and even if they get everyone back, will it be too little too late? Would they even have enough to compete with the likes of Denver, Oklahoma City, or the Los Angeles Clippers even if they were healthy?
There are hypotheses, but when it comes to a best-case scenario, all conversations are theoretical.
"This is our team," Davis said postgame. "This is our team, what we're going to have. Once we get guys healthy, hopefully, we can get back into our groove."
We haven't seen this team fully healthy and maybe never will. They have to figure things out in the meantime. There’s not much solace fans can take, seeing as the Lakers have never figured out the puzzle that is the Nuggets even once in the past six games, but Davis did offer some optimism.
"When we move the basketball, play for each other, play together and compete defensively how we did tonight and through the course of this three-game winning streak that we had before tonight… we're a tough team to beat," Davis said. "It's tough. We don't have a lot of our guys but when we are healthy and we…play Lakers basketball – that's high assist games, getting to the line, playing in transition, playing defense – if we do those things, it usually turns out good for us."
Time is running out on turning things around, but this is the team and this is the way. The improvement will have to come from within and the Lakers faithful will have to hope that's good enough.
So, what does this team have? Is it enough? We don’t know, but we're about to find out.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.