In case you haven’t heard yet, the 2021-22 Lakers are old.
General manager Rob Pelinka kicked off the summer by trading three players in their 20s and a 2021 first-round draft pick to the Washington Wizards for the Russell Westbrook, who is 32 years old. The Lakers then made the veteran’s minimum live up to its name by using it on players like Trevor Ariza (36), Wayne Ellington (33), Carmelo Anthony (37) and Kent Bazemore (32) to help fill out the roster. They also brought back Dwight Howard (35) to share minutes at center with Marc Gasol (36), and of course, the entire team is still centered around LeBron James, who will be 37 in December.
The Lakers still have some youth, of course — Anthony Davis is in the prime of his career, Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn are still in their mid-20s, and Talen Horton-Tucker is somehow younger than any of the undrafted rookies who just played for the Lakers’ summer league team. But the narrative around this roster right now is its average age (31.8), for better or for worse.
The Lakers have heard all the chatter, and they’re choosing to embrace it.
“I like it. I like when people talk about (our) age,” Anthony said at his introductory press conference. “I think people forget, at the end of the day, it’s about basketball. You got to know how to play basketball. You have to know how to do it, you have to have that experience. I think that’s what we bring at this point in time. Our talent, our skill, but also our experience.”
Anthony, the Lakers’ oldest player, will — like his longtime friend LeBron — be entering his 19th season in the NBA. So perhaps not surprisingly, he also wanted to point out that being old at this level isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing.
“[We have] more resources than guys had years ago when we first came into the game,” Anthony said. “I think just the concept and the seriousness behind taking care of yourself, like we really understand what that means. From a holistic standpoint, the mind, body and soul, we are there at that point of our career where we understand the importance of what it means to take care of your body, what it means to take care of your mind.”
The wisdom among the Lakers’ veterans doesn’t just apply off the court, but also on it. L.A. will have six former All-NBA players on the roster next season, all of whom are likely future hall of famers. Several others not in that group, like Ariza and Bazemore, have still been a part of some very good teams in years past and know what it takes to contribute to a deep playoff run. The Lakers are counting on that knowledge.
“Age does equal experience,” head coach Frank Vogel said recently. “IQ, intelligence, (that) helps you win. In terms of motivation, the motivation process is that trophy. Not what people are saying. This group is highly driven to get back on top... That experience, it will be necessary and will help us win.”
Ariza, who admitted that his first stint with the 2009 Lakers championship team feels so long ago that he doesn’t like to think about it too much, agrees with his new head coach.
“We’ve all seen so much in this league that nothing surprises us,” Ariza said. “We understand how long the season is, how to pace yourself, how to take care of your body. Understanding how important it is for everybody to be on the same page to get to that ultimate goal.”
Howard and Bazemore had similar things to say about knowing how to manager the grind to set themselves up for success over the course of the NBA season, which is set to contain 82 games for the first time since 2018-19. They believe the rest of their teammates will take responsibility for their health, too.
“I just think that if we take care of ourselves off the court, be disciplined with our work ethic, make sure we’re doing everything to take care of our bodies, we should be fine,” Howard said. “We’ve all gotten to this point for a reason, and I don’t think that we’re going to get here and just stop when we’ve got a great opportunity in front of us. I think everyone on this roster understands the importance of being healthy, and we’re all locked in and we’re all ready to go. So I don’t necessarily see health being an issue for us this year.”
In fact, Howard believes that the chance to play around so many teammates with storied careers will only motivate the Lakers more.
“I think everybody is energized,” Howard said. “All of us coming together and playing, I think is going to provide new life. Being able to see who we have on our roster, who is playing alongside of us each and every day, I think we’re going to have so much energy that it’s going to be hard to contain.”
The Lakers brought that energy in 2019-20, as their hard-nosed, veteran-laden team bulldozed its way to the franchise’s 17th NBA title. They’ve now reshaped their roster in the hopes of doing so again in 2022. Bazemore is confident they will.
“We are the best team in basketball,” Bazemore said. “That will be my message all year regardless, of what we’re going through.”
And, seemingly, no matter how old they are.