5 NBA Championship Hopefuls That Might Be Getting Too Old
The NBA season is a marathon. Add a postseason that lasts months, and it's an ultramarathon.
The length of the campaign alone can make things difficult on an older roster. The intensity of games (particularly postseason games), can essentially knock those rosters out of the chase for a title.
Of course, experience is generally a prerequisite to winning it all, too. This is one of those delicate balances that have to be struck in team-building.
For a handful of contenders or borderline contenders, there's a chance the balance could get thrown off.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers made a bunch of additions this offseason that seemed to be motivated, at least in part, by a desire to get younger.
Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant are all 25 or younger.
Their signings were a far cry from 2021, when L.A. picked up Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Rajon Rondo.
The Lakers' best and most important player, though, is LeBron James. He turns 38 in December, and he's averaged 55.8 appearances per season since he joined the team.
And during that stretch, L.A. is plus-4.4 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor and minus-3.2 when he's off. A significant absence in 2022-23 could cost the Lakers a playoff entry.
Beyond LeBron, 29-year-old Anthony Davis is theoretically in the middle of his prime, but he hasn't exactly been a beacon of health throughout his career (he's only averaged 46 appearances per year in L.A.). Expecting that trend to reverse as he approaches 30 goes beyond wishful thinking.
And if Russell Westbrook, who turns 34 in November, remains on the roster, there's one more player who once relied heavily on his athleticism and has lost a step.
Los Angeles Clippers
If the Los Angeles Clippers can stay healthy, they'll almost certainly compete for a championship.
But NBA basketball puts a different kind of mileage on the human body than most jobs, and L.A.'s two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both have significant injury histories. And durability typically gets more precarious after you pass 30.
Kawhi is 31 and missed all of 2021-22 with a torn ACL. PG is 32 and only managed 31 games last season.
And it's not like the rest of the roster is loaded with spring chickens.
Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson, John Wall and Robert Covington, all of whom figure to be in the rotation, are over 30 years old.
The trend continues with teams led by aging stars who've struggled to stay on the floor recently. This time, it's the Brooklyn Nets, led by soon-to-be-34-year-old Kevin Durant and 30-year-old Kyrie Irving.
For Durant, he's now three years removed from a ruptured Achilles, but the two seasons he's actually played since then have been marred by injuries. He played in 35 games in 2020-21 and got to 55 in 2021-22. There's simply no way to be confident in his availability going forward.
As for Kyrie, availability was a problem for him even before New York City's vaccine mandate. Over the four seasons prior to 2021-22, he averaged 50.3 games per year. For his entire pre-2021-22 career, the average was still under 60. And now, Father Time is going to enter the equation.
Of course, a basketball team has more than two players, but plenty of Brooklyn's supporting cast is post-prime, too.
Patty Mills, Markieff Morris, Seth Curry and Joe Harris are all over 30. Royce O'Neale and T.J. Warren are 29. And while Ben Simmons is 26, few things age an athlete faster than back problems.
Jimmy Butler isn't just 33 years old. He's a "played five seasons and change with Tom Thibodeau" 33 years old. And since he joined the Miami Heat in 2019, he's averaged just 55.7 games per season.
When available, Butler hasn't really shown any signs of decline, but all that mileage has to catch up with him at some point. It's certainly possible that that will happen in 2022-23.
And of course, he's not the only player in the rotation who's in his 30s and has a checkered history with injuries.
Kyle Lowry is 36, played in 63 games last season and shot 29.1 percent from the field in the 2022 playoffs. One of his potential backcourt mates, Victor Oladipo is 30, and he's averaged 24 games per year over the last four seasons.
There's a decent amount of good, young talent to support (or even lift) those three. Bam Adebayo is already an All-Star and Tyler Herro is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but they may not be good enough to carry Miami to contention if two or three of the above aren't at full strength down the stretch.
The Phoenix Suns may not belong here, since the headline says "teams," not players, but Chris Paul's age is enough of a concern to shoehorn them in.
CP3 played 2,139 minutes in 2021-22. It was his age-36 campaign. The average for an age-36 season in the three-point era is 1,132.8 minutes.
That obviously doesn't guarantee a big decline in 2022-23, but we have to assume that Paul won't play like the Point God forever. His age and history of injuries (he's played 63.7 games per season over the last six years) suggest that a shift is at least possible.
And while he's surrounded by a team loaded with talents in or near their primes (like Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson), CP3 is who supercharges the offense and makes Phoenix a contender.
During his stint with the Suns, the team's net rating is 3.7 points better when Paul plays. An injury at the wrong time, or CP3 simply running out of gas, could cost them contention.