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ON THE LAKERS

Eight big questions about the Lakers; you may not like the answers

Post-All-Star break, this team has issues. Can Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard coexist? Will Howard stay? Will Lakers make playoffs? (Don't hold your breath, on any of it.)

February 19, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan

What a team. Fun to watch. Energetic. Youthful exuberance jumping off the page. Championship caliber all the way.

Those Clippers sure are a good team. But what can be done about the Lakers?

Already lining up as one of the biggest busts of all time — and don't even compare them to the 2003-04 Lakers, who were tied at 1-1 in the NBA Finals with Detroit before face-planting — these guys have 28 games until the regular season ends.

Full disclosure: I predicted an intentional walk to the NBA Finals a few months ago after Oklahoma City salary-dumped James Harden.

Fuller disclosure: I really believed it.

Let's forget it ever happened.

The following eight questions attempt to sort the Lakers' have-nots from their very few haves, the distinction blurred so far in this calamitous season.

1. Will the Lakers feel motivated to turn around their season because of Jerry Buss' death?

Kobe Bryant needs no motivation. Everybody knows that.

But he'll be the player most affected on the court, owing so much of his legacy to Buss. If he needed an extra reason to perform in his 17th NBA season, he found it.

Sadly, though, the Lakers knew of Buss' worsening health for quite some time. What you see is probably what you get from a team that hasn't been over .500 since beating Brooklyn on Nov. 20 to improve to 6-5.

2. If the Lakers make the playoffs, they would likely face San Antonio, Oklahoma City or the Clippers. Are they a one-and-done team?

Nothing about this team suggests winning a playoff series.

Lose by 24 in a "home" game to the Clippers last week? Check.

Go 1-9 against the top four teams in the Western Conference? Uh-huh.

Lose a skilled post player for several weeks because of something involving plantar fascia? Ugly.

At least they have that lottery pick, giving them something to look forward to when they . . . um, never mind.

3. If you gave Bryant laughing gas mixed with truth serum, what would he say about Mike D'Antoni?

Hey, you're kinda funny. Where's Phil? No, really. You're hilarious. Where's Phil? Hahahaha. Ha. Phil?

4. What has surprised you — good and bad — about Dwight Howard's play this season?

First, the good. It'll be quick.

Buried amid the questions about toughness and injuries are the actual stats. Howard leads the league in rebounding, is fourth in field-goal percentage and fifth in blocked shots. Better than you thought? Yeah, me too.

But the bad has been rough.

He and Bryant have an awkward relationship. He's scored more than 25 points in only five games. He's making almost $20 million.

Too much tension. Too much money. Not enough impact. Next question.

5. The trade deadline is Thursday. Do the Lakers make a last-minute deal?

Anybody want Chris Duhon? How about Devin Ebanks? Steve Blake?

What about Bryant's deal with $30.5 million due next season? Or Gasol's with $19.3 million? Or a dinged-up Howard for a few months until he becomes a free agent?

Didn't think so.

The Lakers are the Lakers, until further notice.

6. What are the odds Phil Jackson coaches the Lakers next season?

Slim. Too many karmic, financial and SuperSonic factors pushing against it.

Karmic: The Lakers had a chance to land Jackson three months ago. They woke him up at midnight to tell him he was a silver medalist. Not nice.

Financial: If the Lakers fire D'Antoni after this season, they owe him $8 million over the next two years. They already owe Mike Brown $6 million over the same span. That's $14 million to coaches who wouldn't even be coaching. Too much.

SuperSonic: Jackson will definitely get a phone call to join the front office if there's a new Seattle team. No traveling for road games and a more relaxed behind-the-scenes job. Very tempting.

Throw it all in a blender and what do you get? A 4% chance Jackson rides into El Segundo as the Lakers' coach next season.

7. What are the chances Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol are on the Lakers next season?

Howard couldn't look any less enthralled, could he? I give him a 25% chance of returning.

As for Gasol and World Peace, it's one or the other. A human jump ball.

One of them can be jettisoned via the one-time amnesty clause, and next season is the last time the Lakers can use the money-saving device.

I think it's as simple as Howard staying or leaving. If he stays, the Lakers drop Gasol, still paying his $19.3 million salary but potentially saving a mind-blowing $40 million in luxury taxes in the first year of the NBA's new, extremely punitive tax system.

If Howard leaves, the Lakers keep Gasol, meaning World Peace's meandering, oft-meaningful quotes are probably a goner.

But at least amnesty and World Peace will be in the same sentence.

8. What are the Lakers' chances to make the playoffs?

Some quick math: Half of the Lakers' last 28 games are against teams with winning records. Not bad but not great either.

Eighth-place Houston sits 3½ games ahead of the Lakers and plays a breezy 44% of its remaining games against teams with winning records. Seventh-place Utah, however, plays 61% of its post-All-Star games against winning teams, meaning the Jazz might be the team to track.

After pulling out an abacus and a sun dial while taking into account the time-space continuum and meteor-strike possibilities, I give the Lakers a 30% chance of playing after April 17. And that might be generous.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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