The Los Angeles Lakers may very well finish this season with their worst record in franchise history. Yet, beneath the embarrassment of a 22-46 record is a handful of players who've shown enough improvement in their games to warrant a return to the roster next fall.
Despite a never-ending, mind-numbing, disproportionate array of injuries, the undermanned Lakers under coach Mike D'Antoni have mostly fought hard, played hard and flashed occasional, brilliant displays of ball movement, aggressiveness and athleticism.
While key starters (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake) went down like so many pins on a bowling alley, Laker reserves made the most of their opportunity to show management and the rest of the league what they could do. Adversity often breeds opportunity.
Heading into Sunday night's game with the Orlando Magic, the Lakers have a dismal winning percentage of .324, good for last place in the Pacific Division. Only the Utah Jazz (.319), Magic (.271), Philadelphia 76ers (.217) and Milwaukee Bucks (.188) have worse records.
There will be debate over the players left off this list of most improved Lakers. Nick Young and Kendall Marshall have contributed great scoring and passing this year when healthy, but their individual games remain one dimensional. Both could be gone to free agency this summer.
The Lakers' starting five of most improved are all players the team should make every attempt to keep on the roster as the team continues its transition from an also-ran to a rebuilding contender.