Predicting When Each Star Will Leave the L.A. Lakers
You can't talk (or even think) about how old the Los Angeles Lakers are without feeling like a you-know-what.
Here they are getting Dwight Howard without losing Pau Gasol, getting Steve Nash in exchange for draft picks no one needs, having Antawn Jamison playing for peanuts—and we're going to talk about this team being old?
But you really can't have an honest conversation about the chances of an extended dynasty without taking age into consideration.
We can celebrate what promise to be at least two very good seasons, but Laker life will become more uncertain thereafter.
Here's a look at just how soon thereafter we're talking. How much longer will the Lakers' biggest names be wearing the Purple and Gold?
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Retirement has crossed Antawn Jamison's mind before, so it wouldn't be entirely surprising for the 36-year-old to consider it again at season's end, especially if he wins his first championship.
There's really nothing stopping him from playing another season or two, though. Retirement looked a lot more attractive when he was suffering in Cleveland, but the prospect of winning with the Lakers could have a reinvigorating effect.
And he was willing to play for the veteran's minimum this season, so finances would be a stumbling block for future contracts.
Look for Jamison to play it by ear next summer, but don't expect him to stick around for more than two or maybe three years.
Metta World Peace
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You can pretty safely assume Metta World Peace will pick up the player option on his contract for next season.
He won't find anyone else to pay him nearly $8 million at this stage of his career. World Peace will turn 33 a couple of weeks into this season, but he's apparently in better shape than he was to start last season.
He'll have to stay in really good shape if he wants to the Lakers to keep paying him in 2014, though. Los Angeles will have tons of cap space before potentially re-signing Kobe Bryant and/or Pau Gasol, so World Peace is almost certainly out of the equation unless he's willing to play for cheap.
Otherwise, he may decide he's had a nice career and go on to pursue any number of ambitions a guy like World Peace assuredly has. Or, he could probably find a team out there willing to pay him $4 million to come play some defense and entertain some fans.
Best bet? He's headed elsewhere in two seasons. Someone will be willing to part with the better part of a mid-level exception.
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It's sort of amazing that Pau Gasol hasn't already left the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers tried and tried, not because they wanted to, but because it always made more sense to part with him than Andrew Bynum—until Dwight Howard became available, of course. Even then, it looked for a long time as though the Orlando Magic would want both Bynum and Gasol, a price too steep for GM Mitch Kupchak to entertain.
Somehow, Gasol's gotten through the storm with his head remotely intact, apparently accepting the whole "it's a business" thing a lot better than almost-traded-before-wanting-(and then getting)-a trade Lamar Odom.
But for all his staying power, the reality is that he could be a goner any second.
Yes, he should benefit immensely from Steve Nash's arrival, but if the Lakers stumble and an opportunity to upgrade the roster emerges, Gasol remains the most tradable of L.A.'s prime assets. He'll look more and more tradable as the two years and $38 million on his contract become an expiring one-year deal next summer.
If Gasol survives another round or two of trade rumors, he very well might re-sign with Los Angeles in 2014—if the price is right, anyway. He'll be 34 by then, and the Lakers won't want tie up cap space that will be budgeted toward younger star power.
In other words, if Gasol's had enough of L.A. and wants one last big pay day, he'll head elsewhere in two years.
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Steve Nash is probably more concerned about his back than his age at this point.
Don't get me wrong, he's old. He'll be 39 well in time for the postseason, and he'll be 41 when his current contract expires. It's hard to imagine him playing beyond that point, but if anyone could do it, it's Nash.
The bigger concern is that his back problems will become a more frequent struggle or that he'll simply lose interest in long grind of the season and prefer instead to spend time with family. We see it happen all the time with elder statesmen in the MLB world, and it's rare to see a guy in any sport last beyond his late 30s.
Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, said he, "was seriously considering retiring so he could remain close to his children," so we know that kind of thinking has already entered the equation.
If Nash wins a title or two in his next two seasons, it's sort of hard to imagine him sticking around for a third.
If he's still ringless, though, that third year looks a lot more likely.
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Dwight Howard will almost certainly remain a Los Angeles Laker for a long, long time to come unless something relatively catastrophic happens.
It's well-known that he'll be a free agent this summer, but it's just as understood that it means absolutely nothing.
L.A. didn't give up Andrew Bynum so that it could rent this guy. He'll go from being Kobe Bryant's sidekick to one day becoming the face of the franchise. When that day comes isn't entirely within his control.
But can you imagine him going anywhere else? Unless he battles serious injury or has some kind of epic falling out with Bryant, D12 makes the Lakers even more of a magnet for elite free agents than it was already. It's pretty hard to imagine him having an easier time winning somewhere else.
Additionally, Howard has his legacy to think about—a legacy that's already been marred by a messy divorce from the Orlando Magic.
He says he has no regrets about anything that happened, but that kind of slap in the face to the Orlando organization and fans won't sit well with some. Alienating masses of Lakers fans at any point in the near future would be a PR nightmare.
Howard will almost certainly be the last of the current Lakers stars still standing.
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Kobe Bryant will be 35 when the 2013-14 season comes to end, and he told Yahoo! Sports' Graham Bensinger that season just might be his last (via Los Angeles Times staff):
That's a long time to be playing. It'll be the last year of my contract. I don't know if I wll play any longer than that. I don't know. It's just a possibility. It's not something I even give it much thought to, but it's a possibility. It could happen.
Of course, it wouldn't be that hard to sign a new contract. This really comes down to what Kobe wants, whether he's willing to continue playing at a diminished level or in a lesser role and, of course, what's going on with the Lakers.
Steve Nash is on the books for that subsequent 2014-15 season, but there's no guarantee he'll play that season out, a season in which he'd turn 41 just in time the All-Star break.
Assuming D12 is still around (something we can pretty safely do), Bryant could still play with a dominant big man. His retirement decision could hinge on what's happening to the rest of the roster. Kobe could be tempted if GM Mitch Kupchak can reload with another star or two, but they'll also have to be the right kind of stars.
Whatever's happening with Kobe's game in two years, he'll still be a locker room leader and an icon.
We know someone like Nash will mesh with that personality, but that doesn't mean all big names will—a factor that could be as sensitive as ever when Bryant is fading into the sunset and clinging to relevance. When he clearly has another five or six solid years left in him, the fact he's even considering retirement should speak volumes.
Bryant would prefer his legacy to end with him going out on top, and who can argue with that?