By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The title of the historical novel "Quo Vadis" is an apt question for frustrated Los Angeles Lakers fans to ask of players and coaches after the team's nightmare 2013-14 NBA campaign came to an end.
Written by Pole Henryk Sienkiewicz in 1895, the novel borrows its title from the biblical query "Quo vadis Domine?", Latin for "Where are you going, Lord?", and the future destination of the Lakers franchise is certainly up for debate.
Granted the team were severely hampered by multiple injuries throughout the season but, as 16-time NBA champions, they are held to a lofty standard by their supporters who could not believe their eyes as one low after another was posted.
The Lakers plunged embarrassing new depths as they finished the regular season well under .500 with a 27-55 record, having never before lost so many games in a single campaign, and they were eliminated from playoff contention a month ago.
At home, they were a dismal 14-27 in front of Staples Center crowds who became bored and gradually dwindled in number and they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and only the sixth time ever.
The Lakers set team records for their largest losses to the San Antonio Spurs (34 points) and to the Minnesota Timberwolves (36 points) while their 48-point defeat last month to city rivals, the Clippers, was their biggest against any opponent.
Coach Mike D'Antoni came under increased criticism for his various strategies during the season and did not always communicate well with his players, though a rash of injuries certainly made his job a lot more difficult.
Shooting guard Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, played in only six games after recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon and then fracturing his knee while veteran point guard Steve Nash appeared in only 15 games due to nerve damage in his back.
And that list goes on and on and on with players such as Spanish forward Paul Gasol and point guards Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry among others spending considerable time on the sidelines.
"We've hit the bottom," Nash, a twice former Most Valuable Player, told reporters after his exit interview at the team's El Segundo practice facility on Thursday.
"We had championship aspirations and nothing has gone right, individually and collectively, but not from a lack of want and trying."
Farmar, who averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 assists but missed 41 games because of a strained groin and hamstring tears, was eager to bury memories of the dismal season.
"Just trying to put it behind us," he said. "Not try to think about it. I view it as an asterisk season. We didn't have a fair shot at it."
Asked whether there was any specific reason for the spate of injuries, Farmer replied: "Sometimes things just happen. It doesn't have to do with toughness or strength.
"Injuries are a part of this game. It's unfortunate it had to be this way. Mike D'Antoni has coached this way for a long time and it hasn't happened before."
Victories in their last two games of the season, over the Utah Jazz and under-manned Spurs, dropped the Lakers to sixth position in the NBA's May 20 draft lottery.
This means they will have a 6.3 percent chance of landing the top pick in the draft where players such as Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid from Kansas, Jabari Parker from Duke and Australia's Dante Exum could be up for grabs.
Whether or not D'Antoni will be part of the Lakers jigsaw puzzle going forward remains to be seen.
"We'll sit down with Mitch and Jim at the end of the year and reassess everything and see where we are and see what their thoughts are," said D'Antoni, referring to Lakers executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.
"I don't have any thoughts yet. The biggest thing was trying to get to the end of the year and we got that done. Now you go to the next step. Nothing has been talked about or said or looked at. Just taking it step by step."
Twelve of the Lakers' 15 players are expected to be free agents in July and D'Antoni rued the fact that 309 'man-games' were lost to injury during their 2013-14 campaign.
"Before the season, everybody said we would have a good shot at making the playoffs if Kobe came back, if Steve Nash came back, if Pau played at a big level and we developed a couple guys," D'Antoni said.
"Well, we developed a couple guys and Pau had a good year but the other two guys didn't come back. That was a big part of it. Things had to go right and didn't.
"We couldn't get any traction because we couldn't get the same starting lineup for four or five games in a row. To me, that's where the season went sideways."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)