When you look as mighty as the L.A. Lakers did in October and you fail to meet any expectations set on your behalf, the damage is going to be wide and deep. And it has been. The Lakers fell to 17-25 on Wednesday, and sit four games out of the No. 8 seed with three teams between them and the Blazers. Amazingly, the Lakers remain just 1.5 games ahead of the Kings in the standings, and three games ahead of the Suns and Hornets, who are tied for the worst record in the West. That's right: L.A. is, by record, currently closer to being the worst team in the Western Conference than it is to be a playoff team.
And we're more than halfway through the season. Understandably, the collateral damage is immense. Let's rank up the reputations that have taken the most damage. Bring us in, big man.
1. DWIGHT HOWARD
Howard has actually put up good aggregate numbers. The problem is that he's had some lousy games at inopportune times, he's the biggest personnel change from previous years and, despite his billing as one of the league's best defenders, he's been a party to -- not the cause, but a party to -- a complete abandonment of performance on that end of the floor. A Dwight Howard team is No. 23 in defense. That's almost inconceivable.
Again, that's not entirely or even primarily Howard's fault. But the Lakers swapped Andrew Bynum for him mostly because of the defensive upgrade. That hasn't materialized, and it's made us question Howard so much that a number of reasonable people would leave him out of the All-Star Game entirely. Would anyone have predicted that a year ago?
Making matters worse is that reports of dissension between Howard and Kobe Bryant are now officially "rampant." And no one is going to side with Dwight in a battle of wills against Kobe.
2. PAU GASOL
The other Lakers' big is taking heat primarily for his play, too. Not a game goes by that Lakers fans don't litter Twitter with "trade Pau" pleas. The thing is that NBA fans who see how awfully miscast Pau has been in Mike D'Antoni's system would love to see Gasol freed, too. We'll get to Mike D. in a moment, but it's frankly bizarre how ineffective Pau has been under D'Antoni. I mean, he's even developed a three-point shot in recent years!
I don't think Pau deserves most of the heat he's been getting this season, but there's no question that he's getting it. He remains one of the stars most likely to be traded by the February deadline; I'm not sure the Buss family can allow Mitch Kupchak to carry this absurd payroll for a team this mediocre, and it should be easier to find a workable Pau trade that reduces salary if only because the Lakers can get away with taking a mediocre package for him. In any case, it's pretty awful that Pau's superlative Lakers career is winding down like this, with him getting replaced in the starting five by Earl Clark.
3. MIKE D'ANTONI
Mike D. would be higher were his reputation not already seriously damaged in New York. But man, he's might as well be Kurt Rambis at this point. Would any single fan base in America (or Canada) get excited by the hire of D'Antoni now? Remember that in 2008 the Bulls and Knicks basically fought over him. I'm not sure Mike D. could get hired by the Suns now, even forgiving any bad blood with Robert Sarver.
Let's take a quick survey of what D'Antoni brings to the table: the team's defense has been much worse than it was under Mike Brown, the offense has not really improved much despite Kobe having his most efficient season in years and a return of Steve Nash, he's unpleasant to the media when he's not winning, and so long as the name Phil Jackson holds relevance (which is "forever") he will be a constant reminder of Jim Buss' arrogance and failure. What's not to like?
4. KOBE BRYANT
Kobe's reputation has suffered in only one area: defense. In the past, only internet heroes called out his defense (and his perpetual presence on All-Defense teams). Now everyone points out his lack of ability and/or interest on that end. Even his coach is hard-pressed to defend Kobe's defense. That's new, strange and eye-opening. Universal criticism of Kobe is not something any of us prepared for.
Otherwise, Kobe has escaped this relatively unscathed. It helps that he's playing quite well and is seen as someone trying to hold Howard accountable.
The one star who hasn't taken heat this season: Nash, who missed the early proceedings due to injury and gets the benefit of the doubt on account of being two weeks away from 39. But if the offense doesn't improve in the second half, he may borrow some of Gasol's heat.
The ringmaster of it all -- Jim Buss -- will get pounded as the season winds along. The decisions to hire Brown over Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman in 2011 and D'Antoni over Phil Jackson in 2012 will linger until the team is truly back. It's been an auspicious start for Jimmy, and because of prior actions to put his own stamp on the franchise there are a lot of people rooting for his failure.
Right now, those folks are getting exactly what they want.