Kobe Bryant Pau Gasol
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have made the playoffs together every year. Reuters

The 2012-2013 season was the worst for the Los Angeles Lakers in almost a decade. The team barely made the playoffs with 45 wins, needing a victory on the last day of the regular season to clinch the No.7 seed. Without an injured Kobe Bryant, L.A. was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, losing every game by double-digits.

Next season, the Lakers are expected to be even worse. The club lost Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, getting nothing in return. They signed free agents Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and Wesley Johnson, but none expect to be major impact players.

The Lakers are usually in contention to reach the NBA Finals and have high expectations every year. However, the general consensus seems to be that Los Angeles will struggle even more in 2013-2014, with a good chance of missing the playoffs. It would be the first time that L.A. didn’t reach the postseason since 2005, when Bryant was playing alongside the likes of Caron Butler, Chucky Atkins and Chris Mihm.

ESPN recently revealed their “Summer Forecast” series, in which they predict the standing for each conference. The panel of experts had the Lakers finishing 12th in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by four games.

Bryant, the ultimate competitor, seemed surprised by the prediction. He tweeted “12th I see..,” which was likely a response to the article. The future Hall of Famer went down at the end with a torn Achilles and was given a projected recovery time of nine to 12 months. However, Bryant is rehabbing and looking to return for opening night and reach the playoffs for a 17th time in his career.

If the Lakers are done after 82 games, though, it might be the best thing for the franchise. Since Bryant is still one of the best players in the NBA, and Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will return, it’s possible for L.A. to make the playoffs. However, they likely don’t own enough talent to compete with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. A trip to the postseason could mean another first-round exit for the Lakers.

Should the Lakers miss the playoffs, they would have their first lottery pick since 2005 when they drafted Andrew Bynum. The 2014 draft class could become one of the best off all-time with the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker expected to enter the draft. Wiggins is projected as a franchise player, and perhaps the best prospect since LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003.

Even if the Lakers don’t end up with a top selection, they can still get a very good player towards the end of the lottery. Players like Glenn Robinson III from Michigan and Andrew Harrison from Kentucky can be solid contributors towards the middle of the first round.

As currently constructed, the Lakers may already not be a playoff team. However, Los Angeles can hurt their postseason chances even more by making a trade or two and freeing up salary cap space for the offseason. Steve Nash is the only player with a big contract that is signed to the Lakers beyond 2014. If the team could move him, L.A. would have a chance to sign one, or maybe two top free agents, in addition to Bryant.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons suggested that the organization can trade Nash to Toronto. The point guard is passed his prime at 39 years old, but the Raptors tried to acquire him a year ago, and he would be a fan favorite since he’s from Canada. James and Carmelo Anthony lead the probable list of free agents, and L.A. is looking to make a big splash next offseason.

Simmons also recommended that L.A. trade Pau Gasol. The veteran big man still has a lot of value, and it might not be hard for the Lakers to move him. However, he only has one year left on his contract, so it wouldn’t affect the team’s pursuit of free agents in 2014. It would only hurt the 2013-2014 team, giving them a better chance to get a top draft pick.

It’s not likely that the Lakers will tank this season. Bryant will work hard to get back, and the team has enough talent to remain competitive. However, having a bad season in 2013-2014 could mean great seasons for the club in the near future.