Is Kobe Bryant's Crack at L.A. Lakers' Age Really a Subtle Trade Suggestion?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Kobe Bryant keeps taking shots at the Los Angeles Lakers, lamenting the team’s age and general lack of athleticism and energy (via ESPN). He’s doing it so consistently, in fact, that it’s starting to make us wonder if what he’s really trying to do is hint to L.A.’s decision-makers that a trade is in order.

After all, barring a pretty significant scientific breakthrough on aging, the Lakers’ current roster isn’t ever going to get any younger. And while Kobe seems somehow immune to the effects of age, the rest of his big-name teammates are certainly feeling the tightening grip of Father Time.

Pau Gasol, 32, looks painfully slow as he lumbers up and down the floor. Sure, he’s dealing with knee issues and plantar fasciitis, but those types of injuries aren’t the result of bad luck. They’re the result of getting older.

Dwight Howard is no spring chicken, either. His lack of bounce and slightly delayed rotations on defense are attributable to a slow recovery from April back surgery, but like Gasol, the number of miles on Howard is clearly affecting him. He’s just 27, but he looks an awful lot older lately. Nine years and over 650 games of pounding down low will do that.

And then there’s Steve Nash, who’s almost old enough to have starred in This Is 40, playing in a theater near you. He’s managed to get by without much athleticism for years, but there’s no getting around it: Nash will only slow down as the months wear on.

So maybe Kobe really is trying to plant the seed in L.A.’s front office that it’s time to get younger. His comments certainly give the impression that he’s running out of ways to answer questions about his team’s performance.

After a Jan. 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers, Bryant told the press, “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.” (via ESPN)

Bryant’s right, by the way. Watch how slow the Lakers are to rotate as the ball moves around the perimeter in a game against the Houston Rockets.

Actually, “stuck in the mud” might be an understatement. The Lakers look like they’re cemented to the floor.

And now note how the Lakers' aging/injured trio of Bryant, Howard and Metta World Peace remain stationary, allowing the younger Rockets team to secure an offensive board. If that wasn't bad enough, MWP gets burned on the extra possession, Howard rotates late and Bryant fails to help the helper.

Nobody in a purple jersey seems capable of getting to the correct help positions on time. That’s another symptom of age.

Whether Kobe is deliberately insinuating that the Lakers need to make moves, it’s clear that the team’s lead-footed reactions on the perimeter and lack of lift inside are the products of getting older.

It’s also clear that the only way to actually get younger and more athletic is to pull off a trade. Nobody on L.A.’s bench is suddenly going to turn into a devastating slasher, shot-blocker or defensive ball hawk.

But other teams have a few guys like that.

From Josh Smith to Ryan Anderson to Andrea Bargnani, the Lakers have been linked to plenty of potential trade options this year. And although Bryant has come out in support of Pau Gasol, he’s smart enough to know that if L.A. is going to make a move, dealing the Spanish power forward is the most realistic way to start a youth movement.

Look, Kobe Bryant isn’t prone to throwing in the towel, so there’s a good chance that his constant complaints about the Lakers’ age are designed to light a fire under his teammates. But there’s also a chance—however slight it might seem—that he’s subtly telling GM Mitch Kupchak that it’s time to bring in some younger reinforcements.

As the season wears on and the Lakers demand more and more minutes from their aging core in a push to stay somewhere on the periphery of the playoff picture, things might even get worse.

If that happens, Bryant’s complaints will start to become decidedly less subtle.