How the Los Angeles Lakers Will Struggle With, Combat Age in 2012-13

Roy BurtonContributor INovember 9, 2012

October 30, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;    Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash (10),  small forward Metta World Peace (15), shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24), center Dwight Howard (12) and power forward Pau Gasol (16) during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the Staples Center. Dallas won 99-91. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012-13 season is barely a week old, and the calls for Mike Brown to lose his job are almost as intense as the death stare Kobe Bryant gave him on Wednesday night.

However, it's a bit unfair to point the fickle finger entirely at the Los Angeles Lakers' embattled head coach. At the end of the year, Brown will be little more than a co-conspirator in the team's eventual downfall.

Because despite having the talent to win an NBA title next June, the Lakers will fall short of their ultimate goal thanks to the efforts of one Father Time.

The Los Angeles Lakers are old. Using a tennis analogy, they would be considered the Roger Federer of the NBA. Six of the top nine players in the Lakers' rotation are at least 32 years of age, and the five members of their starting lineup (when fully healthy) have a combined total of 64 seasons of NBA mileage on their collective legs.

For all of the grief that the Boston Celtics catch for being an older team, it should be noted that the Lakers have only one starter—Dwight Howard—under the age of 32. Heading into this season, Bryant and Steve Nash had logged 116 more  games over their careers (including playoffs) than the Celtics' two elder statesmen—Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

The effects of nearly 1,400 NBA games (not to mention international play) have taken a noticeable toll on the seemingly ageless Bryant. While the Lakers' shooting guard logged an impressive 38.5 minutes per night in 2011-12, Bryant's true shooting percentage of .527 was the worst of his career.

Brown is already on record saying that he'd like to see Bryant's minutes decrease in 2012-13. If the Lakers need their 16-year veteran to play more than 37 minutes per game during the regular season, Bryant may not have much left in the tank when the playoffs roll around.

So, to that end, the Lakers' coaches realize that they need to be somewhat conservative over the next five months. Otherwise, the Kobe vs. LeBron dream NBA Finals matchup that many of us have longed for will never come to fruition.

In terms of pace, the Lakers are tied for 19th in the NBA at 94 possessions per game. The overwhelming factor behind the team's rather pedestrian speed is due to the Princeton offense that Brown installed during training camp. But while a new approach in the half court may lead to a few more scoring opportunities, the Lakers simply aren't built to run up and down the court like the Denver Nuggets.

Howard is seven months removed from season-ending surgery on his back, which limited him to 54 games in 2011-12. Nash has a broken left fibula that has already caused him to miss three games, and despite flying to Germany in 2011 for the innovative Regenokine treatment, Kobe Bryant's arthritic right knee hasn't magically healed itself.

So while the much-maligned Princeton offense has its flaws (as NBA Lead Writer Josh Martin recently pointed out), it does prevent a fair amount of wear and tear on the legs of the Lakers' aged core.

Los Angeles will also be able to conserve some energy when the opponent is controlling the action. With Howard protecting the rim, many of the sins of defensive liability/notorious hand waver Nash will be absolved. It would be foolish to expect Nash to improve his on-ball defense at this point in his career anyway; instead of him trying (in vain) to check Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook, he can focus on making the talent around him better.

The Lakers' defensive efforts have been rather pedestrian to start the season, but having Howard serves as an all-around cushion: He'll save them a number of possessions, and his blocks (among other things) could translate into easy fast-break buckets courtesy of Nash. This will therefore ease the burden on their starting five.

This isn't entirely new ground for the Lakers. The average age of the core group that led L.A. to the NBA Finals nine seasons ago (Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, Gary Payton) was 32.75 years, the same as the average age as their current "Big Four." And we all remember how that 2003-04 season ended.

The Lakers do have one thing working in their favor, however. At least they aren't the New York Knicks.