The Los Angeles Lakers are an NBA franchise synonymous not only with winning, but also with collecting championship trophies. Despite that fact, a disastrous 2012-13 season—which started with championship aspirations and ended with a first round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs—found its place in Lakers lore as one of the worst in franchise history.
The Lakers are the league’s all-time winningest team with a winning percentage of .619. Since moving to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season, the organization has failed to make the playoffs only four times. The consistency they’ve displayed over a 50-plus year period has been nothing short of remarkable.
So what seasons qualify as the worst in team history?
Finding Lakers teams that failed to win games is like discovering a fish that doesn’t know how to swim. Doing so is rare, bizarre and unexpected, but even the mighty Lakers aren’t perfect.
Admittedly, narrowing down the worst seasons for the purple and gold is an easier task than trying to decide which were the best of the best. Nevertheless, even Lakers fans have had hard times. Well, not really. ...But you know what I mean.
The Los Angeles Lakers still had Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson from 2005-2007, which is a winning tandem on paper. Unfortunately, the supporting cast during this time was below average to say the least.
In 2005-06, the Lakers finished third in the Pacific Division with a 45-37 record. The Black Mamba was the only reason why.
Bryant averaged a ridiculous 35.4 points per game that season. He shot 45 percent from the field and hoisted an eye-popping 27.2 field-goal attempts per contest. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he went on to win his first scoring title.
This, of course, was the season when Bryant recorded a historic 81-point outburst in a home game against the Toronto Raptors. On Jan. 22, 2006, Kobe finished 28-of-46 shooting from the field (60.9 percent), 7-of-13 from three-point range (53.8 percent) and 18-of-20 from the free-throw line (90 percent).
The 81-point game was clearly the highlight of the Lakers 2005-06 season, but their 2006 postseason showing wasn’t too shabby. The Lakers pushed the Phoenix Suns (a team that finished 54-28 on the regular season) to seven games in the first round. Bryant averaged 27.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and a disappointing 4.7 turnovers per game (a playoff career high).
Upsetting the Suns would have made the season far more memorable, but it wasn’t meant to be.
As for the 2006-07 season, Bryant averaged 31.6 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, but he was the only Laker to score at least 1,000 points over the course of the regular season. Smush Parker was second on the team in total points, scoring 907 in 82 games played.
The Lakers still made the playoffs with a 42-40 record, but they lost to the Phoenix Suns 4-1 in the first round.
These seasons are only honorable mentions because of Bryant’s brilliance and the fact that the Lakers were still competitive. However, it’s a travesty that Bryant wasn’t surrounded with a better supporting cast at the height of his basketball powers.
He brought it on himself by forcing Shaquille O’Neal out of town, but there’s a legitimate argument that Bryant would have more rings if more talented teammates surrounded him at this time.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ 1975-76 roster was one of only four squads in franchise history that didn’t make it to the postseason. They finished 40-42 under head coach Bill Sharman, but only positives were on the horizon for purple and gold.
This was the first season that basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spent in a Lakers uniform. Although the team didn’t make the postseason, the Lakers ranked fourth out of 18 teams in attendance because of how polarizing the 7’2” superstar was.
Abdul-Jabbar played all 82 games and averaged 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, five assists and 4.1 blocks per game. He was just as dominant as he had been with the Milwaukee Bucks to start his career.
Despite his overall dominance, and having Gail Goodrich average 19.5 points per game as his wingman, Kareem wasn’t able to lead the Lakers to the playoffs.
Of course, Abdul-Jabbar would lead the Lakers to 13-straight playoff appearances and five championships after the fact, so you take the good with the bad.
Phil Jackson coached the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999-2004 and won three championships along the way. He did not return for the 2004-05 season due to contract disputes and because he didn’t want to coach if Kobe Bryant was still on the roster, according to Roland Lazenby’s book The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It.
After losing the 2004 NBA finals 4-1 to the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers “Superteam” disassembled. In addition to the departed Zen Master, Karl Malone retired, Gary Payton played the following year with the Boston Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a future first-round pick.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers struggled after losing those key pieces.
Rudy Tomjanovich (24-19) and Frank Hamblen (10-29) combined to coach the Lakers to a 34-48 record. The Lakers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1994 (stay tuned).
Bryant averaged 27.6 points per game to lead Los Angeles, but he played just 66 regular season games due to injury and shot only 43.3 percent from the field. Odom and Butler played solid basketball, but they missed a combined 23 games and simply couldn’t fill the void left by the departed O’Neal.
Considering that the Lakers made the NBA finals in four of the previous five seasons, failing to make the playoffs at all was a huge disappointment (though not entirely unexpected given the key departures).
After Los Angeles Lakers head coach Randy Pfund was fired following a 27-37 start to the 1993-94 season, assistant Bill Bertka coached two interim games to the tune of a 1-1 record. Then Earvin “Magic” Johnson took over to coach the franchise he won five titles with as a player.
Not only was Johnson’s stint as head coach short-lived, but it was also very disappointing. Granted he didn’t have much talent on the court to work with—the Lakers’ leading scorer that season was Vlade Divac at 14.2 points per game. Nonetheless, Johnson’s Lakers stumbled to a 5-11 record and finished the season with a 10-game losing streak.
Johnson resigned from coaching at the end of the season.
Again, the 1993-94 Lakers didn’t exactly have an identity. Divac and Anthony Peeler were the only players who averaged more than 14 points per game. Additionally, six players on the roster averaged at least 10 field-goal attempts per contest, and only one, Nick Van Exel, averaged more than five assists.
This Lakers squad became the first in nearly 20 years to fall short of a playoff berth.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the first Los Angeles Lakers team in franchise history that failed to make the playoffs.
Laker legend Jerry West retired prior to the 1974-75 season, which was clearly a bad omen. The West-less Lakers finished 16th out of 18 teams in offensive rating (96.1), while simultaneously finishing dead last for the league's defensive ratings (99.9), according to Basketball Reference.
A basketball team that doesn’t play defense or score points consistently simply isn’t going to win many games. It doesn’t take a statistician to figure that out.
In addition to the two-way woes, not a single Lakers player on the roster logged more than 74 games (injuries, anyone?). The Lakers’ top six scorers that season missed 108 games combined.
Gail Goodrich led the team by averaging 22.6 points in 72 games played, but nobody else made a consistent impact.
Let’s just say that isn’t very good. And yet...
Relative to expectations, I’ll make the argument that the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers are the worst team in franchise history.
Prior to the 2012-13 season, according to Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Times, there was, “an 87% majority of fans who say the Lakers’ title chances are already a foregone conclusion,” based on a series of poll questions.
I was called an “idiot” and a “joke” for predicting the Lakers would finish 59-23 for the third-best record in the Western Conference last September. Even my modest prediction was far too generous for the 2012-13 Lakers.
A combination of injuries, a lack of bench depth, a lack of team chemistry and a revolving door at head coach ensured a 45-37 record for the Lakeshow.
For reference, that’s the same record as the 2005-06 team that featured a starting lineup of Kobe Bryant, Smush Parker, Lamar Odom and a trifecta of Brian Cook, Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown.
Making the playoffs seemed doubtful throughout the entire season, but with a little help from the Utah Jazz, the Lakers snuck into the 2013 playoffs at game 82. The San Antonio Spurs promptly swept them out of the first round.
Adding salt to the wounds (or perhaps wounds to the salt?), Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in April, missed the postseason and has been rehabbing all summer in order to make a successful comeback.
Other Lakers teams were worse from a pure record standpoint. However, the 2012-13 Lakers failed miserably when those lofty expectations are accounted for.
Trading for D12 proved to be a huge gaffe, because he bolted for the Houston Rockets in the offseason. Only time will tell, but there’s a chance the 2013-14 Lakers will be the fifth in franchise history to miss out on the postseason.