The Los Angeles Lakers are still on the cusp of that final playoff spot in the Western Conference, which is a long way from where they were pegged at the beginning of the season.
A missed playoff spot would have strange implications.
Obviously, it's too early to count them out. After all, they have won seven of their last nine games and an impressive four of six on their current, injury-riddled road trip.
The only problem is that the Lakers have lost Pau Gasol for an extended period of time, they have a hobbled Dwight Howard, and if their game against the Boston Celtics is any implication, deeper teams are going to give them a rough time down the stretch.
Challenges lie ahead, but they're slowly working their way over each day-to-day difficulty, even if those difficulties have been major for the past month.
Los Angeles is a paltry game-and-a-half behind ninth place and a surprisingly meager three-and-a-half games behind the final playoff spot.
Looking at the Lakers, they are not the team they have been over the past decade. There's way too much uncertainty.
As a result, it seems like a situation where standing pat isn't an option, especially if they do end up missing the playoffs.
To Panic, or not to Panic?
Obviously, the Lakers missing the playoffs is a huge deal. They've missed the postseason a grand total of six times in the existence of the franchise. So when they do miss the playoffs, people tend to get perturbed.
What's undeniably strange, however, is that the Lakers legitimately had a "rebuilding" offseason after they last missed the playoffs. After the 2005 season, they opted not to panic, held onto their draft picks, let Kobe Bryant throw a hissy fit through the media and were better off for it in the long run.
They drafted Andrew Bynum that summer and allowed the rest to take care of itself. The only real shakeup was breaking down and convincing Phil Jackson to return to the team after his one-year absence.
From there, the team bided its time, waited for the right deal to place itself in front of them (Pau Gasol for a shoebox full of Garbage Pail Kids cards seemed to work out in their favor) and ended up back in the Finals just a few short years later.
The only question that remains is what exactly would panicking mean this year? Is firing Mike D'Antoni panicking? What about trading Gasol, or even facilitating a sign-and-trade for Howard?
There are some intriguing questions to be answered about this team over the course of the next month, and it's going to be fun to watch Mitch Kupchak somehow come out of the season with a starting five of Nash-Kobe-Gordon Hayward-Paul Milsap-Howard, with Metta World Peace coming off the bench.
I'm not targeting the Jazz specifically, but these are the types of deals that Kupchak just seems to pull out of his hat.
The most important question that needs addressing after a swing-and-a-miss on the playoffs is who is the team's head coach.
I'm actually still very much in favor of D'Antoni continuing with the Lakers. It's just that he's been in a situation this year where his specific style of offense that has been so productive in the past just doesn't work.
There's not enough free flow to it when the five best players are on the floor together, and that's what's forced him to bring Gasol in off the bench before the injury.
If D'Antoni is the future for the Lakers, there are some changes that need to be made.
Kobe must continue the unselfish play that he's exhibited for the past few weeks, although it's fine if he does it in a lesser capacity.
The Lakers then have to take a look at each player on the roster to decide who fits D'Antoni's system and who doesn't. That's where the big question pops up.
Pau vs. Dwight
There are situations where Howard and Gasol would be fine together in the post. But in a D'Antoni offense with the maximum output possible, it's going to take one post presence, a distributor, two wings who can shoot and slash, and a stretch-four.
Pau Gasol is not and should not be used as the most expensive version of Boris Diaw imaginable.
That's why, when taking age, output and potential under D'Antoni into consideration, Gasol has to be traded to fill out the rest of the Lakers' roster.
Whether that means finding a way to get someone to take on his big (but expiring after next season) contract and taking in a small return, or taking on another big contract in return, it's just something they've got to do.
It seems crazy to say that the Lakers are "stuck" with Howard, but that's kind of the way it seems right now. The Lakers aren't an organization to take a superstar on and then just let him walk the next season.
If Howard leaves Los Angeles, it will doubtless be because he wants to leave (which would throw a huge monkey wrench into the whole summer), not because the Lakers don't want him anymore.
Although it seems like D'Antoni should be able to make Gasol and Howard work together if he is the offensive mind that he's touted to be, the only real change the Lakers will make if D'Antoni stays is shipping Gasol elsewhere.