Lakers Overvalue Experience in Their Attempt to Climb Through Their Rapidly Closing Title Window
The Los Angeles Lakers opted for a radical reshuffling this offseason. They added an aging superstar in Russell Westbrook and an aged-out superstar in Carmelo Anthony. LA heads into next season with a vastly different roster than the team that finished 42–30 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. After such a forgettable title defense, one can understand why general manager Rob Pelinka went the extreme home team makeover route.
But when the dust settles, will the Lakers be any better than they were in 2020–21? Of the 15 players who ended the season on the active roster, nine are already gone, and three are still free agents. LA has just seven players left from last season. Only four remain from the championship team of October 2020, less than a year ago. Of those, two barely saw the floor during that title run.
There’s heavy turnover, and then there’s a revolving door. Speaking of revolving doors, one additional member of the 2019–20 champions is back. Dwight Howard returns for a third go-around in Tinseltown. One more, and he gets a free set of steak knives. Or something like that.
A frenzy of activity for the Lakers that started before free agency
The Lakers got the ball rolling on their offseason moves by agreeing to acquire Westbrook and three future second-round picks from the Washington Wizards.
Talen Horton-Tucker re-signed, but the Lakers allowed fellow restricted free agent Alex Caruso to walk to the Chicago Bulls. Andre Drummond and Markieff Morris also signed elsewhere. Dennis Schröder will not be back.
In the place of the departed will be an eclectic mix of vintage specimens. Besides Westbrook, the Lakers added 37-year-old Carmelo Anthony, 36-year-old Trevor Ariza, and 35-year-old Howard. Younger 30somethings Wayne Ellington (33) and Kent Bazemore (32) signed up without the AARP discount.
They did add some youth, as well. On holidays, the vets will relegate 26-year-old Kendrick Nunn and 23-year-old Malik Monk to the kids’ locker room. Bringing in all this experience looks great on paper for the Lakers. But with age often comes injuries, both significant and nagging, that can strain the depth chart.
LA has spacing and defensive questions to go with the age thing
There have been mixed reactions to the Hollywood restructuring. There are those star-struck by the prospect of Westbrook and Anthony joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Others see many toys that aren’t seamless fits by a long shot, if not necessarily a collection of broken toys.
The Lakers brought in shooting with Anthony, Ellington, Bazemore, Monk, and Nunn hitting better than 38% from 3-point range last season. But at the end of the day, the spacing still looks awful.
With Davis, James, and Westbrook, LA has three players who must attack the rim to be their best. It doesn’t matter if the other two players are Stephen Curry and Joe Harris; the spacing is still not ideal.
And yet, shooting doesn’t appear to be the most significant shortcoming at the hottest senior resort in the NBA. The defense took an enormous hit, particularly on the perimeter. Nunn is aptly named because that is the number of players he can effectively defend. Ellington isn’t stopping anyone. Westbrook is good for taking risks and leaving his team 5-on-4, so there’s that.
Bazemore is adequate, as is Ariza. But ultimately, the defense will have to rely on Davis and James. That’s not to mention that the roster has more players older than 35 than it does younger than 30.
LeBron James not taking criticism of the Lakers very well
In a since-deleted tweet, LeBron James fired back at critics of the team’s age.
“Keep talking about my squad, our personnel ages, the way he plays, he stays injured, we’re past our time in this league, etc., etc., etc. Do me one favor PLEASE!!!! And I mean PLEASE!!! Keep that same narrative ENERGY when it begins! That’s all I ask. #Thank You”LeBron James’ deleted tweet
It’s unclear why James felt the need to delete the tweet. The oldest average age of any team in the NBA last season was the LA Clippers at 28.8. The players under contract on the Lakers roster as of Aug. 6, 2021, have an average age of 31.2. The last NBA team with an average age of more than 30 was the 2017–18 Cleveland Cavaliers at 30.6. The last team with an average age on the wrong side of 30 to win an NBA title was the Miami Heat in 2013, at 30.3.
That means if the Lakers capture the title in 2022, it may not be a win for the ages. But it will undoubtedly be one for the aged.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and ESPN.