Age, the cliché goes, is only a number. But in basketball it kind of really matters.
That’s why the Lakers, with all their free agency wheelings and dealings, are so fascinating and, frankly, polarizing. After completely revamping the roster following last season’s first-round flameout, Los Angeles enters the 2021-22 campaign having added six new players 32 or older, an NBA offseason record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The names are flashy and the fit will be unique, but teams filled with grey beards, generally speaking, aren’t built to last during a grueling 82-game season and a two-month march to the NBA Finals. The oldest team in NBA history, the 1997-98 Knicks with an average age of (31.76), only managed to win one game in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Then again, that team didn’t have LeBron James on it.
No squad in NBA history will start the season with a collective age older than these new-look Lakers (31.83, courtesy of Elias) and no team will have higher expectations (other than Brooklyn) after LA added Russell Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, and Carmelo Anthony, to name but a few of the new additions. Lakers fans better hope that James (who turns 37 in December) and Anthony, his banana boat buddy, can find the fountain of youth in a bottle of their favorite red wine because conventional wisdom says you can’t win it all with a roster that ancient.
“I like when people talk about the age,” Anthony told reporters earlier this week. “I think it gives a better story. I think people forget, at the end of the day, it’s about basketball. You got to know how to play basketball. You got to have that experience. I think that’s what we bring at this point and time. Our talent, our skill, but also our experience.”
Talent, skill, and experience are important—the Lakers will have plenty of it. But health and availability are obviously no joke and the Lakers will serve as a fascinating experiment next season, all the while being heavy, heavy favorites to reach the NBA Finals out of the West.
One day after we ranked the Eastern Conference Nos. 1-15 post-free agency, it’s time to order the other side. Not surprisingly, the new-look Lakers sit atop the conference thanks to its new big three and bevy of grizzled vets. But with notable injuries and heralded returns scattered amongst the rosters of the West’s other serious contenders, here’s our stab at ranking the conference a couple of months before the season starts.