Los Angeles Lakers fans wish.
Losers of six straight, and 12 of their last 13, the Lakers have descended well past rock bottom, into the hellish underworld located beneath it, where torment and anguish become inescapable bedfellows.
This was never going to be a season championed by winning and two-way dominance. Those expectations were reserved for last year's star-studded disaster, when Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were unable to establish the chemistry necessary to contend.
Outfitted with an injured Kobe, broken Nash and hauls of NBA beatniks and journeymen playing for their next contract, and sans Metta World Peace and Howard, the Lakers were never going to be great.
But they were supposed to be better than this.
Still No Identity
The Lakers are a nondescript team.
Injuries certainly haven't helped, but by now, even without Kobe and Nash, they should have an identity—something or someone that defines them.
They don't. Where there should be definitive character, there's a team trapped in no man's land.
The Lakers rank 22nd in offensive efficiency—hardly indicative of a Mike D'Antoni-coached team—and 26th in defensive efficiency, finding themselves 8.5 games back of a playoff spot with the Western Conference's second-worst record.
Strange new territory for the Lakers. It's called 14th place in the Western Conference.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) January 16, 2014
Their free-spirited, largely nameless attack was admittedly charming early on—when it was bankrolling wins. Surprising, unadulterated and impressive victories.
Los Angeles began the season 10-9, effectively treading water and biding time until everyone was healthy. With Kobe back, maybe the Lakers would sneak into the playoffs. Maybe their chemistry would reach new heights.
Maybe this team, the one pieced together with offbeat and aging talent, was better than last year's version.
Or maybe not.
Battling through another Kobe-related injury—in addition to gobs of other setbacks—has proved impossible. Lately, all the Lakers do is find ways to lose.
Things came full circle in their loss to the Phoenix Suns, a tightly contested affair they could have won. But Nick Young's ejection coalesced with a second-half defensive meltdown and doomed them to another loss, pinning the Lakers where they are now—lower than rock bottom.
The Lakers have now allowed 110 points or more in each of their last six game, going 0-6 in that span.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 16, 2014
There is no more happy harmony to this group. The honeymoon's over and the Lakers are facing a reality they haven't known since 2004-05: irrelevance.
No End In Sight
Immediate optimism isn't just waning—it's gone.
Relief isn't in sight, because it's not coming. Injuries and age have slashed through the roster like Freddy Krueger did Elm Street, leaving the Lakers thinner and more vulnerable than they ever anticipated.
When Swaggy P was tossed in their loss to Phoenix, the Lakers were barely able to field a five-man lineup. Healthy bodies are that scarce.
With Nick Young ejected, the Lakers only have 8 healthy bodies to get them through the rest of the game. Unbelievable.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 16, 2014
Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry, Nash and Kobe—they're all out. Worse, there's no guarantee all of them will reach full strength again this season. If and when they do, will it be too late?
Is it already too late?
Say that Nash and Kobe return healthy and productive. Erasing an 8.5-game deficit with barely a half-season remaining is beyond difficult, perhaps impossible.
That's assuming the Lakers don't fall further in the standings.
Six games remain on their seven-game road trip. Away from home, they're 6-14, tying them for the second-worst road record in the Western Conference.
Unlike the Eastern Conference, the West is deep and unforgiving, and so the Lakers are already finished. Should a time ever come when they're healthy, identity-clad and ready to compete, it will be too late.
It's already too late.
Losing Now, To Win Later?
Try as they might to deny they're tanking, the Lakers sure look like they're tanking.
"So it's never happened here and it never will," general manager Mitch Kupchak said of tanking to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell. "It's the worst message you can ever give to anybody."
Believe him. If the Lakers were truly tanking, Pau Gasol would be wearing a different uniform.
Losses now aren't by design, they're circumstantial. A product of inherent flaws in Los Angeles' plan to expedite a rebuild.
Looking ahead to this summer's draft does little for this team. Snagging a top-five or top-seven pick would be nice, but it's not going to fix the Lakers, who are more invested in possible free-agency coups than they are developing prospects.
Where will the Lakers finish in the Western Conference this season?
Kobe doesn't get extended midseason if the Lakers are hoping to lose. Offering him two years and nearly $50 million proves they've placed an emphasis on winning again soon. That won't happen by tanking; it will happen by using their cap flexibility this summer and next to retool the roster.
Ergo, this Lakers team is fighting. Still trying.
Lethargy isn't a recurring issue. Gasol is playing through pain, and while the Lakers are hardly mistake-free during games, they're still emanating pride.
"We're still the Lakers," Young said following the 36-point beatdown the Los Angeles Clippers handed them, per the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus. "We'll still go out and fight each night and try to turn things around.''
These Lakers are trying, attempting to sell fans and themselves on an imminent turnaround that isn't coming. That's the worst part: trying, but failing.
Trying, but still consigning themselves to nightmarish depths extending well beyond rock bottom.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.