The Lakers are coming to grips with reality

Christian Petersen

A quick fix for everything that ails the Lakers doesn't appear to be on the horizon. It's uncharted territory for a team always primed to compete.

"We're fighting with a bunch of good guys that played well before, and they'll play [well] again. If [the fans] are discouraged, then, you know, find another team to root for." -- Mike D'Antoni, earlier this week.

If expectations are the root of all heartache, there's nothing this season can do to Lakers fans that should approach the misery of the team's botched attempt at an all-in championship run a year ago. The weight of those expectations were lifted when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles and Dwight Howard opted for the greener pastures of Houston.

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Still, the inconvenient truth of this campaign might not be much easier to swallow. There's no over-the-counter medication to cure the sight of Nick Young on the company Christmas card. The Lakers are mediocre, and there doesn't appear to be an obvious quick fix on the horizon. It's not something for which Lakers fans are traditionally conditioned.

For the Lakers, there always seems to be a way to get back on track. It's a franchise that has only finished below .500 three times in the last 37 seasons. When they're struggling, a trade like the one that sent them Pau Gasol in 2008 registers as an inevitability more than a surprise. The brand almost always wins out.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, the brand is one of the few things going for them right now. Los Angeles enters the weekend at No. 12 in the Western Conference, and there isn't a lot of room for upward mobility. It's because the West is loaded once again, but also because this Lakers team doesn't do much particularly well. The Lakers run the floor hard -- currently fourth in the league in pace -- but the extra possessions only serve to showcase a team that finds nothing easy at either end of the floor. The Lakers are No. 22 in offensive efficiency and No. 18 in defensive efficiency.

Whatever fleeting moments of joy were provided by an opening-night victory over the Clippers and the initial return of Kobe are looking more like a mirage than a renewable source of energy. The Lakers are 3-7 in their last 10. They haven't beaten a team over .500 in more than a month. And, from a roster-building perspective, the Lakers are arguably in a worse spot than even the Milwaukee Bucks. At least Milwaukee has three promising young frontcourt players and is headed for a top-five pick in the loaded 2014 draft.

It only takes one look at the inventory to realize the Lakers are running without really getting anywhere. Xavier Henry is the only rotation player under 26 years old. Nick Young has been the team's one consistent source of offense, and he's shooting under 43 percent from the floor. The long-term assets are limited too, with their 2015 first-round pick going to Phoenix in that doomed deal for Steve Nash.

Nash's situation personifies the sorry state of Laker land to a disheartening degree. Nothing has gone right for either since the point guard broke his leg in the second game of last season, an injury that immediately doused the Lakers' title hopes. Nash hasn't been the same since, and neither have the Lakers. He's currently fighting nerve root irritation in his back, which sounds about as hard to stomach as a 360 airball layup from Swaggy P.

The Lakers still have money, because they'll always have money, but the rules of the current CBA aren't going to do them any favors when it comes to reloading. Neither will Kobe's new two-year, $48.5 million extension. It's only been on the books for a month and already looks like one of the worst contracts in sports.

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There are ways for the Lakers to get good again with Bryant still on the team, but none of the short-term routes seem promising. Los Angeles will have plenty of cap room next season with only Nash and Bryant on the books, but even Carmelo Anthony wouldn't do much to get this team out of basketball purgatory. The Lakers can also use their record profits to take on a player on a big contract a smaller market team is looking to shed, but ask the Nets about how that plan of attack is treating them.

The most sensible road might be the one the Lakers have rarely taken: a traditional rebuild.

The most sensible road might be the one the Lakers have rarely taken: a traditional rebuild. Trading Gasol and Steve Blake would help develop the younger half of the roster as much as it would improve the team's own draft pick. In a draft that appears to be at least seven-deep with franchise-altering talent, maximizing their pick looks like the best way to restock the roster.

The Lakers have always been able to take a shortcut to success, but years of failed draft picks are starting to take a toll. The Lakers haven't drafted and developed an impact player since Andrew Bynum in 2005. Before that, you'd have to go back to Derek Fisher in 1996.

The Lakers very well may find a way out of mediocrity, because it always seems to happen. But if Mitch Kupchak and Co. can turn around the current crew with the deck stacked again them like it is, it might be the Lakers' most improbable victory yet.

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