- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers will return from four days off after the All-Star break next week, but will there be anything worth coming back to this season?
No matter what happens in the final 29 games of 2013-14 for the Lakers, this group already set a franchise record for futility with Thursday's 107-103 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was their seventh straight loss at home, the worst home stretch in team history.
This will always be known as a cursed season no matter what happens from here on out.
Even the good news on the horizon -- the prospect of Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks and Pau Gasol all being available for the Lakers' first game after the break Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets -- can be just as easily construed as a discouraging development.
The Lakers, at 18-35, are 13 games behind the Golden State Warriors for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. They're only nine games behind the 9-43 Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the league and the best shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Losses will do more good for the future of the franchise than current wins will.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak declared again Thursday that the team will not actively engage in tanking down the stretch run of the season.
"Winning is never a bad thing," Kupchak said. "If you try to manipulate the draft, my experience -- I'm not a karma guy -- but if you try to manipulate this thing, it never works out the way you think it's going to work out. You're better off doing what you know is the right thing to do and whatever happens, happens for the right reason. And that's our approach."
But stripping down the roster even further -- trading Gasol to Phoenix for an injured Emeka Okafor and a future draft pick, for instance -- would be a way to aid the tank's path without the karmic repercussions.
So, maybe there will be more nights like Thursday after the break. It's really the best-case scenario for Lakers fans who still want to devote a few hours every couple of days to tune into a game and still get something out of it. They can see an entertaining and competitive game, and maybe see some development out of the Lakers' young players that could be part of the team in seasons to come (Kendall Marshall had 14 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds; Wesley Johnson had 19 points). They could scope out what the rest of the NBA has to offer and maybe even day dream about the league's elite someday wearing purple and gold (you know some fans were thinking it after Kevin Durant had 43 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three steals).
It will take some effort on the part of Lakers fans, but there will still be memorable moments to be unearthed if they're appreciated for what they are and not in the context of how they relate to the team missing the playoffs for only the sixth time in franchise history.
Kobe Bryant, it seems, will make a comeback at some point and will resume his work chipping away at the 592 points between him and Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list and fans will cheer him on. Dwight Howard will play in Staples Center against the Lakers for the first time since bolting in July and fans will boo until they're blue in the face. Nash will play, likely, his last games of his brilliant 18-year career in this second half of the season and it will be a mixed bag of that applause and derision.
Nick Young will wear more lavish outfits and utter more funny quotes. Meeks will get hot again in a game and fill it up from the outside. Ryan Kelly will lead the team in scoring one night but still have to run errands for the veterans the next morning. Chris Kaman will go in the lineup and out of the lineup and then back in it. (Actually, maybe that's not one of the highlights to look for.)
"It's been a crazy year and there will still be some turbulence ahead," coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Buckle up, enjoy the ride as rocky as it might be and hope the team lands the piece it needs in the draft come June.
It's all there's left to do this season.
41dMatt Walks, ESPN.com