It could always be worse. The Lakers could have been pounded into a sad corner of team history with Dwight Howard in Houston's lineup.
So they got hit with the next worst thing, losing to the Rockets without the injured Howard, 145-130, and clinching their most miserable win-loss record since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.
With four games to go, the Lakers (25-53) already outdid the 1974-75 team that went 30-52.
The Lakers keep seeking stability, a main reason team executives Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak recently sat down with Kobe Bryant for a clear-the-air meeting, The Times has learned.
Buss and Kupchak thought it was important to follow up Bryant's blast of the front office last month by hearing him out at the El Segundo office of Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka.
Buss and Kupchak reassured Bryant that the next two years — possibly the last of his career — wouldn't be wasted. They also stressed this season was a mess primarily because of injuries, and the Lakers wouldn't be hitting new lows if Bryant had played more than six games.
They remain committed to signing a big-name free agent in two of the next three summers — whether it's LeBron James this July (unlikely), Kevin Love next year or Kevin Durant in 2016.
It was unclear what was said about Coach Mike D'Antoni, though Bryant does not like D'Antoni's small-ball concept and misses the winning mind-set Phil Jackson provided while coaching the Lakers. D'Antoni has another season left on his contract for about $4 million.
The meeting showed how much clout Bryant still held with the only franchise he's ever known. The Lakers want to hear what he has to say, undeniably, and Buss has remained in constant contact with Bryant since the gathering.
The team took a big-picture step Tuesday and it didn't involve D'Antoni.
Kupchak's contract was set to expire after next season but he received a multi-year contract extension from the Lakers.
Buss has long admired Kupchak's basketball acumen and wanted to reward him in an otherwise dour season. Jeanie Buss also signed off on the deal for Kupchak, who is well regarded in basketball circles.
The Lakers declined to comment other than confirming the extension.
Howard, who spurned the Lakers last summer to sign with the Rockets for less money, didn't play Tuesday because of a sprained left ankle. When he played at Staples Center in February, the Rockets won by 26, their largest road victory ever against the Lakers.
The Rockets did fine without him Tuesday, scoring more than they ever had against the Lakers, shooting 57.7% and getting 33 points from James Harden.
The Lakers' highlights were limited after Steve Nash's five assists, exactly enough to overtake Mark Jackson for third among the NBA's all-time leaders. Nash now has 10,335 assists but trails John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).
Nash, 40, was taken out of the game for good, and to a standing ovation, after finding Jodie Meeks for a fastbreak dunk with 2:13 left in the second quarter.
"When they sat me down after the All-Star break, I didn't even realize how close I was. It's a great honor, but it wasn't something I was tracking," Nash said.
"It's just the by-product of playing a long time, having a lot of great teammates and some fortunate health."
Nash said he probably wouldn't play again this season because his chronically sore back flared up on him on the court.
He has one more year on his contract for $9.7 million. The Lakers currently plan to bring him back next season instead of waiving him and spreading his salary over a three-year period.
Nick Young had 32 points for the Lakers, who allowed 49 points in the third quarter, tied for the second-most in team history in any quarter.
Twitter: @Mike_BresnahanCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun