After a 36-point loss to the Clippers Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers are 1-10 in their last 11 games. How much lower will they go—could this season’s record become the worst in franchise history?
At one point on Friday, the Purple and Gold were down by 41 points. They managed to make some minor headway in the third quarter, at least avoiding their all-time margin of loss—46 points, courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1995.
The Lakers’ record now stands at 14-23 (.378) and is headed toward oblivion. The Lakers will face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, and when that’s all wrapped up, there could be a tie for obscurity.
Let’s begin our journey through five concentric circles of pure wretchedness, also known as the worst records ever for the Lakers franchise in terms of percentage, from five to one:
2004-05 Los Angeles Lakers, 34-48 (.415)
It wouldn’t be a stretch to see the Lakers match their 2004-05 season. After a stunning meltdown against the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, Phil Jackson left, Shaquille O’Neal was traded and Rudy Tomjanovich was hired. Rudy T actually had a respectable 24-19 record before stepping aside, citing health reasons.
This was the season that saw Chris Mihm starting at center with Chucky Atkins running the point. Frank Hamblen stepped in as the interim head coach and finished things off with a 10-29 record. Final tally: 34-48.
This current Lakers squad could match that low without even trying. Let’s just go ahead and lower the bar a notch.
1993-94 Los Angeles Lakers, 33-49 (.402)
The Lakers went 33-49 during the 1993-94 season with three different head coaches—Randy Pfund, Bill Bertka and Magic Johnson. Vlade “Sweat Mop” Divac led the Lakers in scoring, and it was Nick Van Exel’s rookie season. After Pfund’s dismissal, Magic took over and closed things out on a 5-11 coaching run.
The quickest way to a 33-win season is to simply repeat history by changing coaches midseason. Kurt Rambis, currently an assistant with the Lakers, could take over and pull a Hamblen by keeping the seat warm for the return of Phil Jackson.
Want to know who else was on the ’93-94 roster? None other than Rambis. Kind of spooky, huh?
1974-75 Los Angeles Lakers, 30-52 (.366)
Continuing down the drain, we come to the low point of coach Bill Sharman’s career. The 1974-75 season was just too sad to make fun of with a 30-52 record. Longtime Lakers color commentator Stu Lantz was on this squad. Gail Goodrich, Lucius Allen, Happy Hairston, Connie Hawkins and Pat Riley were also on board.
It just goes to show—great players don’t always make a great team. And since the current Lakers roster isn’t loaded with great players, 52 losses is a doable thing.
Guess who else was on that ’74-75 roster? Stan Love, as in the father of Kevin Love.
1959-60 Minneapolis Lakers 25-50 (.333)
Next we journey back in time to the days of the Minneapolis Lakers. During the 1959-60 season, the Lakers had a horrendous 25-50 regular-season record but still made it to the Western Division Finals before losing to the St. Louis Hawks. John Castellani coached for the first half of the season, and Jim Pollard finished things up at 14-25.
Elgin Baylor led the team with 29.6 points and averaged 16.4 rebounds per game. Hot Rod Hundley was also on the roster, along with Slick Leonard and Rudy LaRusso.
Could our current Lakers squad dive all the way down to 27 wins, the equivalent number in an 82-game schedule? It could be done, like this: Kendall Marshall, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson get injured. With no operational guards left, Mike D’Antoni turns to Chris “The Caveman” Kaman as his new point center. The floor at Staples Center subsequently falls through the ice below, and lawsuits ensue.
1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers 19-53 (.264)
And finally, the worst season in franchise history. During the 1957-58 season, the team had a league-low 19 wins and 53 losses. This was the season in which John Kundla persuaded legendary big man George Mikan to try his hand at coaching. After compiling a record of 9-30, Mikan turned the reins back over to Kundla.
In order to sink this low in an 82-game schedule, the Lakers could win a max of just eight more games. This would be a nearly impossible task unless Bryant and Nash were to return at the same time and tell the rest of the guys, “Thanks for keeping our places warm, but we’re ready to take over now.”
When you come right down to it, what is the context of the worst season ever? Is it complete team disillusionment, the utter frustration of fans or simply a number?
Lakers fans are asking a lot of questions right now, and there’s not really one defining answer. To some, the notion of tanking in order to move up in the draft is appealing. To others, the idea of losing on purpose is abhorrent.
If there’s one thing this list of worst-ever teams tells us, however, it’s that losing doesn’t often happen by design. Some of the all-time greats were on those abysmal squads. Kobe Bryant is also one of the all-time greats, and this can’t be a good feeling for him.
If misery deserves company, the Lakers’ plunge is about to start attracting a whole lot of attention. Stay tuned.