Fresh off a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers that dropped the Lakers to below .500 once again, it became clear that Los Angeles had a problem.
Of course, the Lakers have many problems. Their defense is ranked 17th in the league with 106 points allowed per 100 possessions, Dwight Howard—regardless of what he says—is still recovering from back surgery and Pau Gasol continues to fight a case of plantar fasciitis.
But those problems, or most of them, are all extensions of another problem: The Lakers are old.
Though the Lakers boast one of the most talented rosters on paper, there's simply no escaping they're the reality of age ruling all in Hollywood.
Even Bryant (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com) admitted as much:
You just saw an old damn team. I don't know how else to put it to you. We're just slow. You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud. I think individually we all have to figure out how to get ourselves ready each and every game to have high level of energy. That's all that is.
Kobe didn't know how else to put it, because there isn't another way to spin it. The Lakers are overly dependent upon a slew of athletes whose best days are officially behind them.
Most simply believed that age wouldn't be the heart of any of the Lakers' issues. Sure, their legs wouldn't be as spry as other convocations, but the potency of their household-name-driven squad would be enough to carry this team toward prominence.
But it hasn't been.
Remember, not everyone has aged as gracefully as the 34-year-old Bryant. He leads the league in scoring with 30.3 points per game and is shooting a career-best 47.9 percent from the field. The same cannot be said of everyone else.
Gasol, 32, is having the worst season of his illustrious career. His 12.7 points on 41.7 percent shooting are career lows, and his ongoing bout with plantar fasciitis is affecting his mobility on the floor.
Steve Nash is in a similar boat. Since returning to the lineup, he's brought his averages up to 10 points and eight assists per game, respectable numbers for an athlete on the verge of 39.
That being said, after 12 seasons of missing no more than 12 games, Nash has already missed 24 this season. And now, courtesy of that shin injury, he simply isn't moving as quickly or confidently.
Let's not pretend that Bryant is perfect either. He's expending so much energy on the offensive end that blown defensive rotations have become a tendency of his, not a rare happenstance.
Is this cause for concern?
Bryant is playing well and there is even a case to be made for the still-recovering Nash, yet Los Angeles' age is a very real problem, a quandary that the Lakers believed they had prepared for leading into this season.
Howard was supposed to serve as a youthful two-way presence, someone who could take over the game on both ends and lead the conditioning charge. At 27, though, Howard appears no younger than Gasol. The explosiveness behind his cuts to the basket just aren't the same and the lift in his legs just isn't there. Not the way it used to be.
This is a Lakers team that is actually allowing fewer points when Howard is on the bench. This is a team that is scoring just 11.3 points in transition a game (22nd in the league) under the offensive genius that is Mike D'Antoni.
This is a team that looks its age.
I understand that the average age on Los Angeles' roster is 28.4, a far cry from the 32.6 mark the New York Knicks have hit. But I also understand that the Lakers currently have four players over the age of 32 playing more than 30 minutes a night.
Not even the Knicks utilize their aging wonders to that degree. In fact, Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd are the only players over 30 who receive more than 25 minutes a night.
And therein lies the heart of this issue—the Lakers are both old and shallow.
Los Angeles isn't an exceptionally deep aggregation. Bryant is averaging 38.8 minutes per game and has played more than 40 minutes 13 times thus far. Nash has been back for just five games, played less than 30 minutes just once and played more than 35 minutes three times.
The still battered Gasol continues to log nearly 35 minutes a night despite his structural shortcomings. And whatever prolific youth the Lakers have in Howard, he is in need of some rest yet continues to be overused because the team doesn't have the supporting cast necessary to afford him a breather.
So yeah, this is a problem.
Age is both a delicate and fickle friend in the NBA. Teams value the experience; they crave the poise under pressure that comes with veterans. But seasoned veterans are, well, seasoned.
The Lakers aren't doing themselves any favors by running their aging stars—along with a less explosive Howard—ragged. Let's make that clear.
But while I would normally chastise D'Antoni beyond reason for doing so, do the Lakers have any other options? Can they depend on a 30-year-old Chris Duhon or 36-year-old Antawn Jamison to provide any relief?
As we've already come to find, they can't. Which means until the Lakers can grab hold of some added—preferably youthful—depth, what they see is what they have. It's all they have.
"That's no excuse, the Knicks are playing great, so that's no excuse," a 33-year-old Metta World Peace said when asked about Los Angeles' age. "You can't use it as an excuse for us."
World Peace is right; it's not an excuse—it's a fact.
The Lakers, though? They don't. Their bench is ranked 26th in points per game. They have age and profundity without depth.
That the anatomy of their roster is a problem.
A very real, increasingly detrimental problem.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 1, 2013.
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