Few people felt the Los Angeles Lakers would spend the last portion of the 2012-13 NBA season competing desperately for a playoff spot. Even fewer people felt that success in the struggle would be rewarded with the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
It's been a while since the Lakers entered the NBA postseason seeded lower than third, which makes it unimaginable to think the Lakers could end this regular season as spectators.
The Lakers are already failures in most viewers' eyes because they could very well be the first team in NBA history to fail to qualify for the playoffs with four future Hall of Famers in the starting lineup
And honestly, how much satisfaction can really be had if the Lakers narrowly qualify for the playoffs?
Simply qualifying for the playoffs might be sufficient if Stephen Curry is your point guard, but fans in the land of Magic, Kareem, Shaq and Kobe expect a little more.
Under normal circumstances, any team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol would be expected to contend for an NBA title. But reality often scoffs at the ruminations of man.
Injuries, bad chemistry, inconsistent defense and poor coaching have all contributed to the Lakers' paltry 39-36 record, but an upset win over San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round would wipe the slate clean.
Good luck with that.
The Lakers have shown little to prove they can beat the Spurs or Thunder in a seven-game series, and even if they do, so what?
This Lakers team might have the most talented starting five in the NBA even without Metta World Peace, but if you can manage to limit Kobe, the 2013 version of LeBron James could almost beat these Lakers by himself.
The Lakers simply don't have enough defensive intensity and focus to deny the Miami Heat their second consecutive NBA championship and third since 2006. But considering how this season has played out, a loss to Miami in the Finals would have to be considered a small victory.
There might be a few people who think the Lakers will suddenly transform into the juggernaut that was previously envisioned and bulldoze their way to Kobe's sixth ring, but there is nothing that has transpired recently to lend credence to that theory.
Unbelievably, the Lakers have managed to field one of the most talented starting fives in the history of professional basketball, while ironically having no hope that a 2013 title is within reach.
Did I mention those players have never even won a single game together?
Can the Lakers win a title this season?
However, a championship this season for the Lakers may not be as important as proving they are in a position to contend for years to come.
Howard's affinity for life in Los Angeles might not be enough to sway him into re-signing with the Lakers long-term, but a hard, contested Finals series probably would.
The Lakers have almost no chance of meeting the lofty standards that were set for them once their super team was formed, and a 2013 title is probably out of the question, but a strong showing in the playoffs could change everything.
Reaching the Finals would not silence any doubters, but it would give LA hope, and it would also solidify the Lakers' hopes of retaining Howard for next season and beyond.