Losing to the Houston Rockets and missing the playoffs isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Lakers.
Not even close.
There are far more disconcerting scenarios that could unfold in the coming months.
For starters, Dwight Howard could sign with another team this summer, leaving the Lakers without a franchise cornerstone next season with Bryant’s status in doubt because of his torn Achilles’ tendon.
Maybe point guard Steve Nash, whose skills have already shown a precipitous decline, decides the aggravation of constantly battling through injuries with a team fighting just to make the playoffs isn’t worth it anymore and decides to retire.
Then the Lakers trade Pau Gasol for a package of younger players or turn chintzy and use their amnesty clause on the 7-footer to save on luxury taxes.
And in the final indignity, Bryant suffers a setback and misses a large chunk of or the entire 2013-14 season.
That would leave the Lakers with a starting lineup conceivably including Steve Blake, Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill in addition to whatever free agents and trade pieces the team acquires.
Much of this is unlikely, of course.
If the Lakers lost Howard they would be more apt to hold onto Gasol, and the free-agent class includes some serious star power such as guards Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili, forwards Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, David West and Paul Millsap and centers Al Jefferson and—gulp—Andrew Bynum.
But it’s certainly possible the Lakers’ roster could look dramatically different in a matter of months.
Beating the Rockets on Wednesday night at Staples Center to secure a playoff spot would be a good first step in staying together. Howard would be more likely to stay, Nash would have more incentive to keep playing and Lakers management would have less reason to make wholesale changes in the off-season.