Lakers Valuing Experience in Free Agency, but Are They Already Too Old?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers were all over the news on the opening day of free agency, but every player they reportedly landed is over 30. Tuesday, they added 37-year-old Carmelo Anthony to the mix. And as LeBron James enters his age-37 campaign, it's fair to wonder if this team might be too old.

Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, though, the Lakers made their biggest splash of the offseason on draft day, when they traded Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a draft pick for 32-year-old Russell Westbrook, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

With that news coming on the heels of a reported potential deal for Buddy Hield, it was fair to wonder how well Westbrook would fit alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. Hield with those two was easy to envision (and Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported that pursuit may not necessarily be over). His shooting would open things up inside for the superstars. With Westbrook, it's hard to imagine anything but an overcrowded paint.

To make this particular trio work, L.A. had to nail the rest of the offseason. And they've already reached deals with a handful of veteran free agents who should help.

On Monday, Yahoo's Chris Haynes reported Wayne Ellington agreed to a one-year deal, while Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore agreed to contracts of the same length, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Charania, respectively. That trio shot a combined 40.0 percent from three in 2020-21. Ellington, in particular, shot 42.2 percent on six attempts per game. And Ariza and Bazemore can provide a little multipositional defense.

The Lakers also brought back their backup center from the 2020 title team, Dwight Howard, per Wojnarowski. He obviously doesn't help on the spacing front, but L.A. should once again be able to turn to bully ball when necessary.

Then, on Tuesday, Wojnarowski broke the news on the Melo front. He also reported the addition of 23-year-old Malik Monk. Both players hit over 40 percent of their three-point attempts in 2020-21.

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On paper, it's starting to get easier to see how this team will function on offense, especially with the three stars willing to shapeshift a bit. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reported on a meeting between them that included that very topic.

"James and Davis talked about the two of them changing positions if that was best for the team," Turner wrote. "James moving from small forward to power forward and Davis from power forward to center."

With those two up front, Westbrook at the 1 and two of the new shooters occupying the wings, L.A. should be able to field a heck of an offense.

But age could be a factor. Of all the names included in this article so far, Monk and AD are the only ones on the right side of 30. Marc Gasol, who turns 37 in January, is on the roster too. Alfonzo McKinnie is 28, but he figures to be on the fringe of the rotation, at best.

The only real hopes for youth are Monk and Talen Horton-Tucker, a versatile 20-year-old wing who entered restricted free agency with "multiple suitors," according to ESPN's Zach Lowe.

Even if we assume L.A. brings THT back or matches whatever offer sheet he signs, the average age of the players we know will be Lakers in 2021-22 will be 32.2. The average age of the last 10 championship teams is 28.4. The 2012-13 Miami Heat were the only championship winner from the last decade with an average age over 30.

Of course, L.A. could finish filling out its roster with a bit more youth (if recent two-way contract signees Austin Reaves or Joel Ayayi become full-timers, the average would drop a bit). Minimum contracts and end-of-the-bench roles are often attached to undrafted free agents or others still trying to prove themselves. But there's a chance the team leans even harder into this over-30 trend.

So far, there has been rumored interest in a number of players, including Andre Iguodala, Danny Green, DeMar DeRozan, Markieff Morris, Jared Dudley and Wesley Matthews.

The Lakers could still get older if they add Carmelo Anthony, who is 37..
The Lakers could still get older if they add Carmelo Anthony, who is 37..Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Every single one is over 30.

Now, this doesn't spell doom for the Lakers' title chances. They have LeBron, AD and Westbrook, a wealth of playoff experience and an influx of shooting. But this level of reliance on post-prime players is, at best, unusual.

Injuries can be more difficult to avoid for players in this phase of their careers. Peak play for extended minutes is harder to achieve. Trying to defend or counter the athleticism of younger teams may be impossible. It's a lot to ask of Davis, whose career has been far from the picture of health.

Beggars can't always be choosers, though. LeBron, AD and Westbrook will make $120.8 million next season. The salary cap is $112.4 million. After swinging the Westbrook trade, minimums and exceptions are all L.A. had available.

And even if there isn't a ton of precedent for it, you can't fault the Lakers for choosing experience over a handful of players in prove-it mode.