The oldest team in the NBA
I usually do a fact-check before I put my basketball claims into writing, but I’m pretty sure about this one – the Los Angeles Lakers, as of this writing, are the oldest team in the NBA.
And I don’t mean that in the ‘longest-living NBA franchise’ kind of way where you pay your respects. The Lakers’ roster has the highest average age for active players on its roster. When I heard about the Lakers getting rid of young talents in Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell in favor of the 30-something Russell Westbrook, I wasn’t too mad. Kuzma and Harrell, despite being very good players, and in my opinion borderline All-Stars in their best games – just did not find their identity within the Lakers’ rotation last season. Yes, they are young and have so much still to prove, but they were mostly disappointing. I’m not too high on Russell Westbrook, but at least he solves the Lakers’ point guard problem.
But then, after the Russell Westbrook trade, the Lakers made crazy moves to acquire back old players they let go in previous years – Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington, and Trevor Ariza. All the while letting go of the crowd favorite and young upcomer Alex Caruso. I’m still furious about the Lakers letting go of the GOAT Caruso, but they sort of made up for it by signing a younger version of him in Mac McClung (looks like the Lakers got away with that). The fanbase will hate the front office for a little while for failing to re-sign Alex Caruso, but I'm optimistic that Mac McClung will fill that void.
That said, the veteran signings far overshadow the young acquisitions. Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk are solid young guards, but I can’t help but think about the Lakers signing a 37-year old Carmelo Anthony after getting all those 30-ish players. LeBron is 36. He's 36!
Does this team remind you of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers?
For some reason, I can’t help but compare this team to the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers before the trade deadline. That too, was led by LeBron, and that too, was marred a frenzied offseason where the Cavs signed some big, but questionable names. Here are a few parallel acquisitions that happened during that 2017 offseason:
Signing the LeBron BFF: In that 2017 offseason, a Wade-LeBron reunion came true. In this 2021 offseason, a long-awaited pairing of Melo and LeBron finally materialized. Carmelo Anthony has been adamant that he isn’t part of the banana boat crew, but pretty much everyone knows how close he and LeBron are. Wade got traded to the Heat for his glorious pre-retirement return – could Melo be heading back to the Nuggets soon?
Making a trade to fill a point guard problem: In 2017 the Cavs’ hand was forced into trading a disgruntled Kyrie Irving to the Celtics to get Isaiah Thomas in return. This offseason, the underperforming assets in Kuzma, KCP, and Harrell were all shipped to make sure the point guard position would not become a full-time job for LeBron, getting Russell Westbrook in the process. At least Russ isn’t trying to come back from an injury, which Thomas was at the time.
3-and-D guys for LeBron’s offense: Jeff Green and Jae Crowder rounded out those 2017 offseason moves, perimeter players who could shoot from outside and make solid defenders. This offseason, the Lakers found themselves Trevor Ariza and Wayne Ellington, two guys whose roles will very likely be just to stand in the corner waiting for LeBron’s kickout pass.
Or, could they be the 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs?
Maybe being an old team isn’t so bad. An NBA roster filled with veterans is usually a more mature group of guys. Three of the five best players on that 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs championship team were all in their thirties. Tim Duncan himself was two years away from retirement. What made that Spurs team a bit more different than this Lakers team though, was that it had up-and-coming young talent. Kawhi Leonard was emerging and even won the Finals MVP. Who is the 2021-22 Lakers’ emerging star? Is it going to be Kendrick Nunn? Malik Monk? I highly doubt it, but I have to try to be more optimistic.
Can old-school basketball still win it all?
Aside from being old, the current Lakers’ roster makeup is also being criticized for its lack of three-point shooting. In today’s NBA, you can’t build a team without several shooters making up your roster. Gone are the days where you can build a roster with just 2 or 3 three-point specialists in the team. Now, the game is in a place wherein as much as possible, all five players on offense are legitimate threats to shoot from the outside.
That said, there is an argument to be made on whether this version of the Lakers, one that includes three players who can dominate the paint every game, a point guard who attacks the rim every chance he gets, plus a former multi-time All-Star with a smooth midrange jumpshot, could all come together and win games through old-school basketball.
Old-school basketball isn’t so well-defined, but a convenient way of describing it would be trying to find the easiest baskets available while taking full advantage of physical attributes (height, weight, athleticism). Old-school basketball would easily describe the games of LeBron, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook.
Right now, they’re being laughed at for being four guys who have been inconsistent from the 3-point line their entire careers. In my opinion though, this is only because the comparison’s just too unfair, because you look at the Brooklyn Nets, or the Golden State Warriors, and you get 2 or 3 players on each team who are elite shooters. I wouldn’t say the Lakers are composed of bad shooters, but I would have to say that it isn’t composed of very good ones.
A declining LeBron James
The final frontier the 2021-22 Lakers will have to overcome, old age and perimeter shooting aside, would be LeBron James’ level of impact. Will we see the LeBron James who has spoiled us too often in the last two decades? Or will we finally see the signs of decline, signs that LeBron James is indeed capable of playing less-than-great basketball.
Giannis is knocking on the door of best player in the league. Kevin Durant is looking like he already is, and has been for a while. I believe LeBron’s still got his butt on the throne, but Giannis might as well be standing in front of him, ready to take it. While Durant is right behind LeBron’s seat, always ready to snatch it away from him and leave him lying on the floor.
This 2021-22 version of the Lakers, despite the several acquisitions is still heavily dependent on LeBron. Anthony Davis, while I know will be healthier this time around, is still a big question mark – fragile players are just hard to trust. LeBron’s sidekicks, as talented as they were have always been injury-prone – Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and now AD. Westbrook will take some of that weight off LeBron’s shoulders, but just how good will their chemistry be?
I have a lot of questions for this 2021-21 Lakers team, and only time will tell whether this team will win a championship next June, or trade everybody in February.