MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- All of the Los Angeles Lakers -- the players, the coaches, the trainers, everybody -- sat on the bus and waited late Wednesday night. They'd all just suffered a demoralizing 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the team's fourth defeat in a row, seventh straight on the road and 10th in its past 12 games overall, and Dwight Howard was out on the court with a pack of about a dozen teenage boys and girls posing for photographs.
The Lakers were waiting, and Dwight was smiling. What else is new?
Never before in this wretched letdown of a season for these supposed new-look Lakers had the divide between Howard and the franchise felt this wide.
Haven't the Lakers been waiting for Howard to officially arrive since he first slipped on the purple and gold uniform?
Wednesday might not have been the last straw, but it sure felt like it. The Lakers had capped off the first half of the season Monday night by falling apart in the final minutes against Chicago to put them at 17-24 heading into the second half.
After an air-it-out team meeting Wednesday morning that was so dysfunctional it left even Antawn Jamison shaking his head in disbelief when asked about it -- and Jamison was on the Washington Wizards for the Javaris Crittenton-Gilbert Arenas gun incident, mind you -- Howard declared, "I think this will be the start of a new season for us tonight."
The only thing new about Wednesday's game was the different ways the Lakers managed to describe the losing.
"I think they played as hard as they can play, and that's what's scary," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of his players. "I don't know how we can play harder or blame something else."
The Memphis game was a rare night when the Lakers couldn't blame Howard. He left just before halftime after reaggravating his right shoulder injury and did not return. Now, his two points on 0-for-4 shooting and two rebounds in 14 minutes before getting hurt didn't exactly help things, but this particular loss wasn't on him.
"It's been a nightmare the last three weeks," Steve Nash said after a game in which he failed the team as much as anyone, going 2-for-6 from the field with six turnovers and even breaking his perfect 27-for-27 start to the season from the free throw line by missing a freebie.
Throw in a 60-34 disparity in points in the paint, a 52-34 disparity in rebounds and 15 team turnovers for L.A. leading to 18 Memphis points, and there you had it. This was a Grizzlies team that hadn't scored more than 85 points in six straight games but ended up with 106 on Wednesday.
"Just weird stuff," D'Antoni said.
No more weird than the rest of the season. If it wasn't Chicago's Jimmy Butler making a name for himself Monday, it was Memphis' Tony Wroten doing the same Wednesday. If it wasn't Kobe Bryant and Howard posing for a mock fist fight photo posted on Twitter, it was the pair actually exchanging words for all the team to hear before the Lakers played another make-or-break game.
Just as weird was the fact that the other guy the Lakers acquired in the Howard deal this summer, Earl Clark, played like the only guy who truly wanted to be on the court for L.A., leading the team in minutes (40) and rebounds (nine), while scoring 11 points and harassing his man, Rudy Gay, into just 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
And Clark's postgame comments said more about the real problems the Lakers are facing than Howard's fantasy "it's the start of a new season" fix-it remark ever could.
"It's not about talent," Clark said. "It's about chemistry. It's about if the guys out there on the court, if you got each other's back. Every team in the NBA is talented. It's about that perfect fit and who plays well together. That's what a great team's about."
These Lakers aren't great. These Lakers barely qualify for a team if not for the matching uniforms.
It has been so bad that even Bryant, who has been the one guy to continue to beat the drum and never waver from his stance that the Lakers can and will turn it around, nearly conceded defeat when asked whether this has been the most disappointing season of his 17-season career.
"It's certainly getting there," Bryant said, tersely. "That Rudy T one was a pretty hard one, too."
Bryant was referring to 2004-05, when Rudy Tomjanovich stepped down as coach after the Lakers started 24-19 and Frank Hamblen took over. It was the last season Bryant had to deal with a coaching change during the season just like this season. The Lakers finished 10-29 under Hamblen, although that .256 winning percentage is actually better than the Lakers have played since the calendar turned to 2013, as they've gone just 2-10 (.167) in January.
Howard eventually made his way to the bus, and the Lakers drove out into the night. Another season started, another loss added, and much more waiting to go before they can attempt to climb out of their 17-25 hole and have anything truly worth smiling about.