The Los Angeles Lakers no longer control their own destiny, as the Utah Jazz could win the rest of their games and end up with the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. So missing the playoffs is a very real possibility for the Lakers.
That's why we need to start talking about it now. What should Lakers fans do if they end up missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2005?
Well, there are a handful of steps to take, some of them obvious, some of them a bit less obvious.
Most important for the Lakers fans is that they stay as calm as possible, realizing the assets they have in their possession and only freaking out at the optimal moments.
Will most of the Lakers fans follow the step-by-step process of not blowing up every aspect of the Internet with their misguided rage? Probably not.
But if I can help a few aimless souls down the right path, then a few people may have a slightly happier summer.
The most important thing is to keep under control and refrain from an immediate freakout.
Yoga, tai chi, chai tea, or just some old-fashioned deep breaths need to be first on every Lakers fan's list following the news of an elimination.
If we have everybody with a Lakers badge on their lapel freaking out at the same time, there could be some huge environmental implications.
Enough rage coming concentrated in one area of the country could lead to a sudden warm front zipping across the country, causing tornadoes galore, leading to everybody in the Midwest feeling the wrath of a missed playoffs.
The time to be in a rage is coming—just start off with a quick reflection period. Realize everything that went wrong throughout the season and collect your thoughts. Anger can come in a few waves throughout the next month or so.
The first thing Lakers fans should do is get all the blaming out of their system.
It's a part of the grieving process that every team needs to go through after a rough season, and it ends up being quite stress-relieving to realize that an entire group of people are upset at the same fellow right along with you.
This is the point where everybody's feelings are aired and the real problem is shaken out, at least in the eyes of the public.
Eventually people are going to start talking about the team getting younger, and the only real way to do that effectively is to build through the draft.
Don't even think about it this year.
I'm not going to harp on whether it's a weak draft or not. That's really something that can only be judged a few years down the road.
However, one thing we learned at the trade deadline is that the price for a draft pick is entirely too high.
It's time for Lakers fans to realize that, at least for the time being, they're going to be a taxpaying team with a huge payroll full of older players. They can build through trades that might get them draft picks as an add-on, but solely targeting a draft pick is going to be difficult.
Be happy with whatever may happen, but don't get hung up with the idea that the team needs a draft pick. They've gotten by in the past.
The reason they've gotten by in the past? Mitch Kupchak has black magic on his side.
Time and time again in the past decade, Kupchak has turned second-round picks, bench players and a few decent dudes into Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Chris Paul (until told otherwise), and put together the basis for two super-teams, along with the pieces that ended up landing them Gasol in the long run.
Every move Kupchak makes may not be perfect, but every move he makes has at least a nugget of positivity.
Sure, it would help if they had a draft pick or two to work with this season, but they have whatever weird Lakers juju that ends up landing them magnificent players one way or the other.
As we learned last summer, the offseason isn't over until it's over. And that usually means that it isn't over until Kupchak does something ridiculous.
Lakers fans need to consolidate their ridiculous trade ideas. For about three weeks it's fun to see the ideas that you guys have, but eventually I get tired of seeing how they're going to turn Metta World Peace into Chris Paul.
Once they get Chris Paul, it seems as if they're going to take Steve Blake and Steve Nash and turn them into Kevin Love, and then a straight-up trade of Chris Duhon comes next for LeBron James.
Boom. Lakers fixed.
I love to see it, but at some point too much is too much.
Take your wild, hilarious ideas into a centralized location and leave them be.
This isn't every Lakers fan out there, but often some of the most vocal, caps-lock addicted purple-and-golders end up putting some ridiculous ideas out there.
The "woe is us" attitude has to stay bottled up as long as possible. In the end, everybody has to realize that the Lakers still have Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, among others, under contract.
As long as the four of those guys are together, given another training camp together and some time to grow a bit more as a team, they should come back a much better team.
This year was a huge experiment that none of us realized could fail so miserably. Teams take time to become excellent, and it could be all this team needed was some time under their belt to learn how to play together.
Of course, if Dwight Howard chooses to go another direction, it could all be for naught.
If Howard leaves, the only thing to hope for is a possible sign-and-trade—and then start to freak out for the team's future.
The future of this team is never going to be more in doubt than when Kobe Bryant retires. That's why this summer could be the beginning of the end of stability for the Lakers.
If the Howard decision isn't enough to freak out every Lakers fan from here to Timbuktu, Kobe Bryant's decision should.
Bryant has decided that he's going to do everything possible to put off talk about his retirement to the summer, keeping the distraction away as long as possible.
However, once he makes an announcement, it could be time for a more deep-seated freakout than ever before.
Bryant has said that next year could be his final season in the NBA, which would mean the Lakers need to decide immediately what their future is going to look like, and what the plan for the summer of 2014 is going to look like.
It could be the end of yet another era of Lakers greatness, and with no new era yet in place, there's going to be few nerves hanging around.