The Los Angeles Lakers have adopted the NBA’s senior housing version: they currently have 10 players on their roster who are 32 or older. While it’s natural to doubt whether this squad can bring purple and gold back to the NBA finals, concerns about head coach Frank Vogel’s team are exaggerated from a age perspective.
Let’s start with what the Lakers have to offer them in terms of their off-season acquisitions, right?
Russell Westbrook remains a walking triple-double as he’s as electric as anyone in the NBA outside of dribbling and an exceptional rebounder. Carmelo Anthony is an efficient shooter who can still score on the post. DeAndre Jordan is a robust rim protector.
Dwight Howard moves people into the color on the offensive end. Wayne Ellington is a proven outside sniper. Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore are respected defenders who can shoot. Rajon Rondo is a composed soil general.
Some of these players are in the last nine of their NBA careers and don’t have a championship ring to show for it. Westbrook and Anthony in particular have a chip on their shoulders, each having a career in Hall of Fame caliber but some of the most notable players of their generation to be ringless. Playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis is a great opportunity for them to fill the blatant positions in their respective careers.
Now, with age and experience, there are health issues. Can this team keep up enough to have a deep playoff run and be healthy enough to have a competitive rotation in the Western Conference? The answer is yes.
Why are the Lakers’ old age concerns so exaggerated?
For the sake of argument, let’s say James and Davis miss two months each at different times in the regular season (both stars were recently paralyzed from injuries). A trio of off-season signings that we haven’t touched on yet are Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk; they give the Lakers a compelling youthful depth.
Horton-Tucker showed his willingness and ability to take matters into his own hands and achieved a plausible rate last season. He did so when he got off the bench, especially when James and Davis ‘injuries tested the Lakers’ depth on the track.
During his two seasons with the Miami Heat, Nunn has been an efficient and effective combo guard. He averaged 15.0 points per game while shooting 36.4 percent from the bow. He’s a respectable ball handler who has played an important role in Miami’s rotation.
Monk, a lottery selection in the 2017 NBA draft, has had the best season of his career. Monk shot the best 40.1 percent of his career from beyond grave, making an impression on an up-and-coming Charlotte Hornets team as he flashed his scoring potential.
The return / arrival of these players no older than 26 compliments a bank of seasoned role-players. Speaking of which, a lot of the Lakers offseason pickups won’t play 25-30 minutes a night. There are plenty of starting players who will fill 10-15 minute roles.
What’s the problem for the Lakers?
The Western Conference is still the Wild Wild West. Even so, the grouping of 15 teams may not be as fierce as it has been near the top in years past. Additionally, the reigning conference masters are Phoenix Suns, who are running it with the same core, as well as the recovery and depth of the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks situations that the Lakers must overcome.
At the same time, the Los Angeles Clippers (Kawhi Leonard) and Denver Nuggets (Jamal Murray) lost a star to start the season. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz hit a wall in the playoffs and the Portland Trail Blazers are on hold. These circumstances eliminate some of the ruthless nature that the West has possessed over the past few years.
Sure, injuries are a burning issue for the Lakers, perhaps a little more than any other contender in the NBA. However, at the end of the day, that is not the key question to victory. That factor is how Westbrook and James coexist.
It’s easy to imagine Westbrook and Davis thriving together on both the fastbreak and half-court, as the latter can end alley-oops and benefit from Westbrook attracting a doubles team from dribbling.
The closest comparison for James and Westbrook on the pitch together is James’ time with Kyrie Irving in the Cleveland Cavaliers. The difference is that Westbrook tends to force shots and is an inefficient shooter. Surely LeBron and Russ will get used to each other’s presence on the floor. A pair of primary ball handlers attacking the track can simply be a rough fit.
The Lakers are a win-now team trying to get at least one more championship out of a roster that includes the best player of their generation and one more top 10 player. Every team in this situation wants proven players with a pedigree.
Age is a factor for the Lakers in 2021-22, but it won’t be what makes or breaks their championship hopes.