Mike D'Antoni, head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, said it best when he told the media, "We're 3-5. I think mathematically we're still in the race."
That sarcastic, yet accurate line comes courtesy of Lakers Nation, and it helps put an inconsistent start to the year into perspective.
Nobody expected the Lakers to be great during the 2013-14 NBA season, but following an early statement victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, expectations began to rise for the most optimistic of fans.
Unfortunately for the fanbase, the party was short-lived.
Timberwolves THROTTLE Lakers, 113-90, snap 22-game losing streak vs. LA. »Kevin Love (23 Pts, 13 Reb) »Ricky Rubio (12 Pts, 14 Ast, 10 Reb)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 11, 2013
Following the big win, the Lake Show has gone just 3-5. The playoffs are still up for grabs if the team can improve, but with every loss that takes place, the postseason looks more and more like a pipe dream that simply won't come true.
If long-term success is going to be a realistic goal, establishing a clear-cut rotation has to be priority No. 1. No team in The Association should run a regular 11-man rotation, but that's exactly what D'Antoni is doing at this point in the process.
Those in favor of the rotation will point out the case study of Xavier Henry. The 22-year-old has found success because of D'Antoni's willingness to swap roles at any moment, and as a result, he's been more effective than his alternative, Nick Young.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, it's also causing distress to players like Chris Kaman. According to Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, the big man is cautiously waiting for an opportunity to play more minutes on a more regular basis.
Kaman has the fourth-highest PER on the roster—third-highest among players who see regular action—yet he's playing fewer than 18 minutes per contest, making him one of just three rotation players who can make that claim.
Experimentation is fine for a while, as the 22-year-old Henry proved, but once Kobe Bryant returns to the floor, that phase of the season should be in the rear-view mirror.
Players need to know their roles on any roster, but especially one where a 15-time All-Star will be running the show. This will in turn help create an identity across the unit, which D'Antoni admits is a problem with this year's unit, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com.
One of the biggest things D'Antoni can do when it comes to his rotation is get Pau Gasol more minutes. More specifically, he needs to place the big man back into the paint, and he must make him a true No. 1 option until the Mamba returns.
Through nine games, Gasol is averaging a career-low 27.8 minutes per contest. It's no coincidence that his points, field-goal percentage, steals and blocks (before his four-block performance against the New Orleans Pelicans) are all the worst of his career as well.
He's only shooting 3.1 free throws per game (another all-time low), and he's taking just 12.2 shots per contest in his limited time on the floor.
Until Bryant gets back, L.A. desperately needs a go-to scorer, and even when the future Hall of Famer returns, we may see him rely on others more than ever before.
Between Steve Nash's health, Pau Gasol's struggles & Kobe Bryant sidelined, #Lakers are a team of role players. It's as bad as it sounds.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) November 11, 2013
Defensively, D'Antoni must simply do something he's never been known to do.
This team's porous defense can't discriminate between down low and up top at this point. It must change its attitude about both categories, and it must be quicker in its half-court rotations and full-court transition.
In the paint, L.A. is allowing 43.2 points per contest, which is only good enough for 23rd in the league. More efficient double-teams will help that category, but the biggest difference-maker is perimeter defense, as disappointing lockdown coverage has left the big men in the middle vulnerable.
The Lakers must also be willing to run their tails off. They're 20th in opponent fast-break efficiency, and they're 27th in fast-break points allowed per contest.
This group's offense has been underwhelming at best up to this point, but it is giving up 106.5 points per contest, which is bad enough for 28th in the entire NBA. The players on the court need to buy into the system, but it's D'Antoni who needs to set the standard, making it clear that the effort up to this point is simply unacceptable.
The T-Wolves are on pace for 188 points tonight. With the Lakers current defense, it's definitely possible.— Randy Cruz (@cruzr83) November 11, 2013
As much as this team has to work on, it can find solace in the fact that it is still talented, and Bryant has yet to make his return. The playoffs won't be lost until the team is officially eliminated, and if the ageless wonder comes back from injury anything like his usual self, he won't let this group forget that it has one goal in mind.
Winning a championship seems nearly impossible at this point, but Los Angeles is not a fanbase that will accept the notion of rebuilding for too long. Tanking simply isn't an option in this city, which means D'Antoni has the privilege of fixing the problems now before it's too late.
All hope is not lost in Los Angeles. It just needs to be brought to the surface sooner rather than later.
*All advanced statistics are provided by TeamRankings.com, unless otherwise noted.