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Current Lakers' Chances of Returning, and Why L.A. Might Want Them Back

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Current Lakers' Chances of Returning, and Why L.A. Might Want Them Back
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LOS ANGELES — After the worst season in Los Angeles Lakers history, you'd think that the worst possible idea would be to bring these guys back for another run.

It's not as off the wall as it sounds.

Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson rolled through Staples Center this week to face Southern California's only NBA playoff team and dropped one of his mantras that fits well with the longtime loser Los Angeles Clippers:

"Trials and tribulations are transportation for where you're going."

Jackson was actually bringing it up in the context of the Warriors having become a good team trying to be more than that. They went 23-43 in Jackson's first season, 2011-12. They were undercut by injuries, and it wasn't much fun.

"A 23-win season," Jackson said, "it lays a foundation."

The pain of being a loser helped drive Jackson, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee toward winning, and it prompts the question whether that sort of tenet is relevant to the Lakers and their just-completed 27-55 embarrassment.

No matter how bad the Lakers were, how they lacked key elements of pride and hustle and how fundamentally they didn't have suitable defensive personnel, there needs to be some continuity carrying over to next season.

Whether Mike D'Antoni is still the coach, there needs to be a sense that the Lakers are building something in the form of player development. For these trials and tribulations to wind up something more than trivial pursuit, the Lakers will need to be able to look back as future winners and take solace in how at least one or two of these guys laid a foundation.

It's not easy when Kobe Bryant's retirement is on the radar, the club is so determined to rebuild through future free agency and so much is expected of the great draft hope of 2014. It seems ridiculous to give attention to how Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly, spare parts at best, showed this season that they were more capable than anyone ever expected.

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But not only will the team be better in 2014-15 if some guys already learned even somewhat to play with each other, the truth is that the Lakers brass actually stands impressed by many of these guys in this terrible season.

"We've had some players, younger players, who did sign one-year deals, who some of them over a long period of time really showed that they belong in this league, and it was helpful for us," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "Even though one of two of them got injured, just to be around them, watch them play 50-60 games—and once again, they're young—we learned a lot and we think that'll help us going forward when we fill out our roster."

The Lakers are interested in building up some of these guys and despite not being game-changers, maybe they can help build the franchise back up, too.

"We had a pretty good look at a lot of guys that are pretty talented," Kupchak said. "I would speculate that there's a good possibility that we pursue some of them to come back."

Here's an early estimate of how likely Lakers players from this season, all things considered, are to be back for another go-around:

Kobe Bryant: 99 percent. No-trade clause, epic contract and a self-declared Laker for life.

Robert Sacre: 90 percent. Excellent worker who understands defense and projects to be a suitable backup NBA center for years…and is under contract as ongoing cheap labor.

Ryan Kelly: 90 percent. Lakers can keep the NBA's most productive 2013-14 second-round pick via qualifying offer; besides shooting, Kelly showed a nice feel for the game.

Kent Bazemore: 85 percent. He is also under Lakers contract control via qualifying offer, and the club desperately needs his kind of explosive athleticism and eye-popping tools.

Mark J. Terrill

Steve Nash: 80 percent. Current plan is not to use the stretch provision to cut Nash, who intends to play one more NBA season as a useful backup but admits his nerve problems mean Lakers "can't rely on me, frankly."

Kendall Marshall: 65 percent. "We're optimistic on Kendall Marshall going forward," Kupchak said. Huge defensive liability with weak motor, but great passer who shot well for a stretch and is under nonguaranteed contract for next season.

Nick Young: 60 percent. Hometown kid is the perfect candidate to prove himself further on a big one-year contract, the kind the Lakers want to offer while preserving cap space for 2015 free agency.

Xavier Henry: 50 percent. Overly individualistic player, but he showed enough for Lakers to be intrigued in further upside—unless they draft a wing player like him.

Jordan Farmar: 35 percent. Was really good when healthy, but was so unhealthy that perhaps the Lakers can re-sign the L.A. native on another prove-you're-a-starter one-year minimum-salary deal.

Jodie Meeks: 33 percent. Lakers season MVP probably priced himself out of Lakers' range, and he won't get the same opportunities with Bryant back next season anyway.

Wesley Johnson: 20 percent. So many highlight moments, so much lack of fire otherwise…Johnson's disinterest in making his mark in this game is truly frustrating.

Chris Kaman: 10 percent. There are so few capable free-agent big men this offseason that you've got to think "Sasquatch" decides to go somewhere else after a season of distrusting the Lakers.

Pau Gasol: 9 percent. Despite him talking about re-signing to play with Bryant, Gasol wants to win again and deserves a fresh start on what will be his last significant contract.

Jordan Hill: 3 percent. Looked really useful at times and will land somewhere, but it's fair to conclude by now that he only goes hard and stays focused in spurts.

MarShon Brooks: 2 percent. We'll always have the one game after which Bazemore referred to Brooks as "like a young Kobe"!

 

Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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