The Los Angeles Lakers are really good and talented which is nice but they are also old and decrepit. While the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard overshadow this fundamental fact, they don’t assuage the possibility of their age eventually stopping their championship dreams right in their tracks.
The San Antonio Spurs have tacitly began the process of instituting younger, long-lasting contributors after it became apparent that they essentially maximized the championship window of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
A younger core could flourish with a steady dose of veteran presence and sustaining success, without exceeding the tax apron, is easier because rookie-scale contracts are a lot more favorable than veteran contracts, which are generally longer in length and require $6-10 million per year.
The Lakers are actively operating against this basic assumption; Andrew Goudelock and Darrius Morris are the only two players to be developed internally, ignoring Kobe Bryant, who was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets. Their opaque infrastructure, created by their four-team heist, will cost $114.96 million according to Basketball Reference.
Ideally, you would like your team to be relatively young to make paying nearly double the salary cap an advantageous solution; because, naturally, younger teams have longer shelf lives, allowing teams to justify immense expenditure. The Lakers, meanwhile, aren’t just old but historically old; when you adjust for minutes, which is a more reliable indicator of age, their aggregate total of 31.5 is only bested by the 2001 Utah Jazz, who finished fourth in the Western Conference.
The Spurs, while I don’t have the official numbers, average adjusted age last season was around the 27-28 age and will likely settle into that range even though allocating Richard Jefferson’s minutes to Kawhi Leonard stands to lower the number a bit. That is nearly four years younger — a significant margin that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Their vaunted Big Four — Dwight Howard is the only player south of 30 and his injury concerns are the most pressing, making his seemingly indomitable frame obsolescent without the proper rehabilitation, which may take until Christmas — will garner upwards of 50% of their minutes this season. That’s a good thing because they are good but also bad; their lack of fledgling, transient, bursts of energy lower Los Angeles’ margin for error.
Experience is nice and, in fact, it’s been proven that it matters albeit not as much as, you know, talent. Younger players shouldn’t be a substitute for veterans, as they aren’t as deft at winning games, but they are an effective preemptive strike against the consequences of age.
Those consequences may affect the Lakers more than anything.
Hat-tip to Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili for the methodology and estimates. McGuire is currently in the process of working on his 370 part player capsule series, a task that requires him to write about every player in the NBA. His capsule on Tim Duncan, especially, was awesome. Check them out.