- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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"He must be very ignorant, for he answers every question he is asked." -- Voltaire
Or, in contemporary terms: "Now what?"
Over the past four months, the Los Angeles Lakers have tried just about everything to fix themselves. In mostly chronological order: They changed their system, fired their coach, hired a new coach, who brought in a new system, which needed a point guard who had a broken leg that took a long time to heal, which threw off everything else, so they all preached patience until he was healthy, and then they all felt good for about a week once he was, but then a bunch of other guys got hurt, and then they had to preach patience again, but all the while they kept losing and everyone grew frustrated, and now it might be too late anyway, but it doesn't matter because they seem further away than ever.
Oh, and Pau Gasol has gone from perennial All-Star to miscast sixth man just trying to make the best of it because he loves Los Angeles.
And Dwight Howard only seems to look like the Dwight Howard the Lakers thought they were getting this summer every other game or so as he continues to recover his athleticism after back surgery.
And Steve Blake is nowhere to be found with an assortment of injuries. And Jodie Meeks -- once a savior -- is now parked on the bench. Because Antawn Jamison, who just endured a similar cycle, finally got off the bench. But even he can't really hold a candle to Earl Clark, who is starting now after being forgotten for the first three months of the season.
I could keep going ... but let's just skip to the point.
The Lakers are broken, and nobody seems to know how to fix them.
"It's very, very tough, very, very frustrating," Kobe Bryant said Tuesday. "I'm just trying to keep my cool."
They've tried answering all the questions and challenges this miserable season has thrown at them. They've been creative and decisive and bold. There just might not be any answers anymore, except to keep trying.
Except that Tuesday night after another demoralizing loss, this time to the Chicago Bulls, Howard said that trying harder seems to have had a negative effect on this team.
"It seems like the harder we try, the faster we fall," Howard said. "We just got to figure out a way to stay strong throughout all the crap that's keeping us down."
About the only thing the Lakers haven't done is make a major trade. And while executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss is on record as saying he doesn't want to make any major trades with this group, that it's too soon to evaluate this group as a whole because of all the injuries and misfortune, he and general manager Mitch Kupchak may have to anyway if this latest slide doesn't end soon.
It's that, or throw in the towel on this season and try again next season.
The Lakers probably aren't at that point yet. They're still close enough to the eighth and final playoff spot to stick with it.
But they're also not as far off from making those types of decisions as many realize. The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 21. Calls will pick up in the next few weeks. Offers will be made. Options will need to be considered.
It would be wonderful if a deal that returned a young, athletic perimeter defender presented itself and the Lakers didn't need to give up any of their top four players in return.
Because that's exactly what the Lakers need right now: a young, long, athletic perimeter defender to do what Bryant is being asked to do right now, because Bryant can't possibly maintain this for much longer and still contribute what he needs to offensively.
But it would also be nice if the Lakers had: any future first-round picks or an athletic young player on a manageable contract (see: Hill, Jordan, who's injured/out for the season) to trade in that kind of a deal, or the ability to absorb a bad contract without serious luxury tax implications.
The Lakers have none of those. They are boxed in. Stuck with what they've got, for better or worse.
Unless ... they want to trade one of their four future Hall of Famers: Bryant, Gasol, Howard or Steve Nash.
You can pretty much cross Bryant and Nash off that list right now. Neither is going anywhere.
You can probably cross Howard off, too, unless he demanded a trade or made it very clear -- publicly or privately -- that he won't re-sign in the offseason. (Which, given his history, wouldn't be shocking.)
Which leaves Gasol again. But if he's the best asset to trade, shouldn't the Lakers be pumping up his value right now? Instead they have relegated him to the bench and asked him to play a role he's uncomfortable in.
No, the Lakers are mostly stuck with this roster. There is room for tweaks at the margins. Change for change's sake.
But for the most part, the best thing they can do, the only play they have left, is for each man to find the nearest mirror, look into it, and decide if there's something in there that can save this season.
It's foolish to keep trying to answer the same questions with new answers.
Just play better, or they won't be playing together for much longer.
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5dChad Ford and Kevin Pelton