The first half of the 2013-14 season has not been kind to the Los Angeles Lakers. And while many of the team’s biggest takeaways have been negative, there are still a couple of positives creating a silver lining for the storied franchise.
The Lakers played admirably at the start of the season despite a collection of injuries. Prior to Kobe Bryant’s return on Dec. 8, L.A. notched a 10-9 record. The play of Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks led the way for the undermanned Lakers.
But the team fell back to earth hard with (and then without) Bryant.
The Black Mamba returned for six games before fracturing the lateral tibial plateau in his left leg. During that span, the Lakers went 2-4. Their two wins came against the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats by a combined seven points.
Since Bryant was shelved for a second time, the Lakers have faltered with an ugly 4-17 record.
These are certainly no longer the mighty Lakers NBA fans are used to seeing. Injuries have derailed the franchise in a big way, but key takeaways—like future possibilities and Kendall Marshall’s emergence—have generated plenty of buzz.
Who would have thought that Kendall Marshall would become a big difference-maker at the halfway point of 2013-14?
Washington made that decision despite the fact that Garrett Temple and Eric Maynor were manning the backup point guard spot—two guys who have combined to average 4.6 points and three assists per game.
Literally every point guard on the Lakers roster (Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar) suffered some type of injury, which left Mike D’Antoni with no feasible options.
The Lakers went out and signed Marshall, who has proven to be a diamond in the rough.
Through 18 games (14 starts) for the Lakers, the North Carolina product is averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game while shooting a scorching-hot 47.3 percent from three-point range despite truly ugly form.
While Marshall simply joins a long list of point guards who have played their best basketball under D’Antoni—Nash, Chris Duhon, Jeremy Lin, etc.—he’s been a revelation.
Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Xavier Henry, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol—all of those guys have missed time this season due to varying degrees of injury.
The Lakers' depth has been tested early and often throughout the 2013-14 season. Nick Young is making a case to be considered for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, but the consistency from other sources has fallen off considerably.
Wesley Johnson, for example, shot 45.7 percent from three-point land during the month of November. He appeared to be rejuvenated after continued mediocrity with the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13, but he’s since shot 27.5 percent from deep in December and 34.6 percent from deep in January.
Many hot hands have cooled off, and the Lakers simply don’t have enough depth on the roster to compensate. It has gotten to the point where Kendall Marshall, Ryan Kelly and Manny Harris are playing significant roles.
Need I say more?
The 2013-14 Lakers appear destined to be just the fifth team in franchise history not to make the playoffs since the organization moved to Los Angeles in 1960-61.
The only other Lakers squads to miss the postseason since that time are the 1974-75, 1975-76, 1993-94 and 2004-05 teams.
For the first time in recent memory, this team is closer to competing for the No. 1 pick in the draft than it is to a championship.
Perhaps that was to be expected with Bryant’s Achilles tear and an offseason that replaced Dwight Howard with a plethora of role players, including Nick Young and Chris Kaman.
In any case, the Lakers are just 16-30. The only team worse than them in the Western Conference is the Sacramento Kings (15-30). Overall, L.A. is tied for the league’s sixth-worst record with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even if Bryant returns again, this is not a playoff team. The Western Conference is too loaded and the Lakers aren’t talented enough.
With that said, high lottery position has its benefits.
As stated in the previous slide, the Lakers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA’s sixth-worst record.
Lottery odds aside, L.A. is just about guaranteed to land a top-10 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. For a team completely devoid of young talent—unless you consider Kendall Marshall and Ryan Kelly long-term building blocks—that high draft pick will be a godsend.
Unless the Lakers somehow luck into a top-three pick, highly touted prospects like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will probably be off the board.
With that said, the Lakers might still be able to reload with international prospects like Dario Saric or Dante Exum, or perhaps even Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
There’s no honor in tanking for a higher draft pick. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne even wrote recently that the Lakers cannot afford to tank because it’s in the best interest of their “brand.”
Nevertheless, this team appears lottery-bound even if Bryant returns to the court before the All-Star break. General manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. need to be planning for the future regardless of this season’s outcome.
Could former UCLA standout Kevin Love be planning a return to Los Angeles?
The present in Lakerland is admittedly bleak.
Pau Gasol has played better of late, but he’s still not the player he once was. Major injuries to Bryant and Nash have crippled the roster, while additional setbacks to Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry haven’t helped.
Nothing has seemed to go right, but these are the Lakers we’re talking about. They’re essentially the New York Yankees of basketball, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll be in the Western Conference cellar for long.
Losing Dwight Howard stung the team’s pride, but if there’s one thing the Lakers are good at, it’s acquiring superstar-level talent.
They may be poised to do so yet again.
According to ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required), an anonymous NBA general manager said Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love joining the Lakers as a free agent in 2015 is “a 100 percent certainty.”
Since Love went to college at UCLA and has said that his patience in Minnesota “is not high,” it makes sense that he’d consider joining the Lakers when he has the freedom to do so.
Fans should take this report with a grain of salt, however, because Broussard wrote earlier this season that the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers each had “internal discussions” about swapping Carmelo Anthony for Blake Griffin. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers later called the report “so stupid,” per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register via Twitter.
Love can’t become a free agent until after the 2014-15 season anyway, but the Lakers will still have a lottery-bound first-round pick and plenty of cap space this summer.
If nothing else, the Lakers certainly have options. It may only be a matter of time before they return to prominence as a title contender.