For a franchise that has won 16 titles, any Los Angeles Lakers season that doesn't end with a championship is considered a failure. But rather than just dole out a blanket "F" for the Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season, we're going to break down each player's production in groups: Today it's the starters. Last week, we covered the bench backcourt and bench frontcourt. Check back for grades on the coaching staff and front office.
How should Kobe Bryant's epic yet ultimately disappointing season be remembered? For all of the turn-back-the-clock dunks? For passing Wilt Chamberlain to claim the No. 4 spot on the all-time scoring list? For eight 40-point games as a 34-year-old? For back-to-back games in March with 40-plus points and 12 assists, leading to consecutive must-have wins? For the two free throws he hit after tearing his Achilles? For 11 games with 10-plus assists as he converted to "Magic Mamba" and played point guard? For converting to defensive stopper for a stretch and being relied upon to stop the opposing team's primary ball handler?
In a season that was a struggle from start to finish for the Lakers as a team, Bryant managed to flourish as an individual, finishing fifth in the MVP voting despite the Lakers' pedestrian 47-35 record. Throughout the campaign, Bryant reinvented himself time and time again to fit the Lakers' needs at that point in the season.
It is time to appreciate all that Bryant did for the Lakers this past season, because both his future and the team's future are cloudy at the moment.
27.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, .463 FG, .324 3FG: It was a renaissance season for Bryant as he averaged the second-most assists per game of his career and shot his best percentage from the field since 2008-09.
Outlook for 2013-14
Bryant is aiming to be back in the lineup for opening night in late October, which would mean a remarkably quick six-month recovery from Achilles surgery. That quiets the amnesty talk, however, as the team won't be waiving Bryant and the $30.4 million it owes him in the final year of his contract if both parties share the mindset that Bryant will be back next season.
Furthermore, Bryant wants the Lakers to stay together for one more run in what could be his final season.
"It's a tough call to make," Bryant said at his exit interview. "But then again, it is one more year. One more year. That's how I look at it. One more year of this thing.
"Our contracts are ending. ... Pau [Gasol] is up after next year. Hopefully, we get Dwight [Howard] locked up so he's here for a while and the future is kind of set already. So let's take a crack at this thing."
It's the longest of long shots. Bryant would have to come back from an injury that ended the careers of the likes of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Isiah Thomas, and the Lakers would have to incur severe financial penalties to bring back both Gasol and Howard. However, Bryant and his franchise have surprised us before.
A: Sure, Bryant's defense slipped a bit and he was a difficult teammate at times, but all in all it was a brilliant season for the 17-year veteran.
You can say this: Howard's first season in Los Angeles wasn't as bad as his "Dwightmare" of a final season in Orlando. But that's not saying much. Howard arrived in L.A. with championship expectations but proved he still has more growing to do before he can be the linchpin on a title team.
Still, Howard deserves credit for playing from the opening-night tipoff, when his back was less than 100 percent, even though he wasn't expected to be in the lineup until January or February. He also should be recognized for missing only six games with a torn labrum in his right shoulder when he could have shut it down, with it being a contract year for him and all.
Even though Howard and the Lakers flamed out of the playoffs, with his unfortunate ejection punctuating the series sweep in Game 4 against San Antonio, it was Howard who got them to the postseason in the first place with his shutdown defense and improved overall play in the second half of the season.
17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.4 BPG, .578 FG, .492 FT: Howard led the league in rebounding and was second in field goal percentage, so even though his scoring was the lowest it's been since his second season in the league and his free throw percentage was sub-50 percent for the second straight season, he still was mighty impactful.
Outlook for 2013-14
Howard has plenty of incentive to re-sign in L.A., as the Lakers can offer a five-year, $118 million deal versus just the four years and $88 million any competitor can put on the table, but the 27-year-old has vowed to take his time with the decision.
"For me, I'm going to do what's best for myself, what's going to make me happy," Howard said at his exit interview. "At the end of the day, I can't control who likes me and who dislikes me, but I have the right to be happy. That's what I'm going to do. That's the biggest thing right there."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he was "optimistic" that Howard would choose the Lakers. If that happens, Howard becomes the plan for the franchise moving forward, and every piece that is brought in -- including, potentially, the coach -- is selected to fit around him. If not, the Lakers will look drastically different next season and will have to consider just trying to make do without adding any long-term commitments and then starting from scratch with clean books in 2014-15.
B: We'll never know how much health played a part in Howard's rocky first season in L.A., so he gets a bit of slack in that department. Still, he has to shoulder some of the blame for how things went down.
Nash's season was thrown off course when he broke his left leg in a freak collision with Portland's Damian Lillard in the second game of the season. As rough as that injury was, causing him to miss 24 games, it was Nash's right hip injury -- which also caused nerve damage in his right hamstring and kept him out of the Lakers' final eight regular-season games plus two more games in the playoffs -- that really got to him. The Lakers knew that bringing in the 39-year-old Nash in his 17th season could come with its challenges -- mainly on defense and perhaps with some durability concerns considering Nash's back -- but nobody envisioned a season as difficult as it went for the former two-time MVP.
Nash called it the most frustrating season of his career, and outside of a few bright spots -- becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and being a constant team presence on a squad that lacked cohesion -- it was an apt description.
12.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 6.7 APG, .497 FG, .438 3FG, .922 FT: Nash was mere percentage points away from achieving the fifth 50-40-90 season of his career.
Outlook for 2013-14
Nash has two more years and approximately $19 million remaining on his deal with the Lakers. He said he'll use the offseason to get healthy, and he expects his hamstring to take about a month to heal properly.
He is just hoping for a do-over.
"I wanted to have a huge impact on the team and really make this an incredible year and experience for the fans, the players and everyone involved," Nash said at his exit interview. "I just hope next year we can repay everyone for their loyalty and enthusiasm."
C+: Nash never found a comfort level because of injuries, but he always put the team first.
Gasol, coming off a dominant Olympics for Spain, was supposed to have a resurgent season thanks to a point guard in Nash who would look for him on offense and a frontcourt mate in Howard who would help maximize his defense. Instead, Gasol had a thoroughly trying campaign with L.A., from dealing with a litany of injuries -- tendinitis, a torn plantar fascia and also a concussion -- to struggling with a demotion to the bench by coach Mike D'Antoni.
Nothing went according to plan.
Gasol stuck with it, however, and finished the season with three triple-doubles in his last seven games, and he left the floor in Game 4 against the Spurs to a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd that was showing its appreciation for his body of work with the franchise.
13.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 4.1 APG, .466 FG, 49 games played: The 33 games Gasol missed because of injury was the most of his 12-year career.
Outlook for 2013-14
Bryant has publicly pined for the Lakers to bring Gasol back for the final year of his contract. Gasol has let it be known that he wants to stay in L.A.
Now it's up to management to make its move. If Howard leaves as a free agent, Gasol could be brought back as the team's starting center. If Howard re-signs, it's hard to imagine the Lakers not looking to trade Gasol for some younger, more athletic pieces.
C+: Like Nash, Gasol's season was derailed by injuries, but he found a way to fight through them and still contribute.
Nothing seemed to add up for World Peace the right way this season.
When D'Antoni arrived in L.A., he said he could envision World Peace scoring 20-plus points per game. Not long after that, he had the mercurial forward coming off the bench.
When World Peace returned to the lineup just 12 days after undergoing knee surgery, he was seen as an inspiration to the team. By the time the playoffs came around a couple weeks later, World Peace admitted he came back too soon and had to have a cyst on his knee drained, causing him to miss Game 4 against the Spurs.
Thanks to a strict diet and increased workout regimen, World Peace claimed to be in the best shape he had been in years, yet losing bulk seemed to lessen his defensive impact against big men -- an impact the Lakers had relied upon in previous seasons.
World Peace kept it entertaining during what was a miserable season at times, but it didn't fully click.
12.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG, .404 FG, .342 3FG: The fact that World Peace averaged his most points since 2008-09 and shot the best percentage he had since 2009-10 and still had those numbers tells you that the 33-year-old is clearly on the decline.
Outlook for 2013-14
If World Peace opts into the final $7.7 million owed to him on his contract, the Lakers will almost assuredly use their amnesty clause to waive him.
C: World Peace fought, but he did not do enough to prevent his days as a Laker from ending.