The NBA Western Conference is broken up into two distinct groups, the Young and the Old. The Young teams are the defending Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers (even though the Clips have added a few vets) and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Old teams are the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Oklahoma City has only one player, Nick Collison who is over 30 and three players over 25. The team is led by two 23-year olds who have both played a lot of basketball in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both were there for the US Olympic team this summer and both put on a show for the rest of the world. Durant especially as he knocked down three pointers as if they were layups. The Thunder let Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed walk so that they could free up some money to keep Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
The Timberwolves did add Andre Kirilenko and Brandon Roy during the off-season to get some veterans on this extremely young and talented team. Make no mistake though, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are the driving forces behind the T-Wolves. Rubio says he is back on track after last year’s injury and Love is practically guaranteeing they will be a factor in the West. If this team stays healthy with newcomers Alexy Shved, Kirilenko’s teammate on the Bronze Medal winning team, Russia and Chase Budinger who they got from Houston.
The Clipper are trying to become the NBA’s tightest knit group. They spend Sunday’s at Chris Paul‘s house watching football and eating meals prepared by his personal chef. Will this translate into wins on the court? It certainly can’t hurt. Paul says that he and Blake Griffin have really gotten to know one another over the past year and it will really start to show on the court. L.A. went out and got Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes, two guys who are very aware of how the Lakers do things. That should also be a plus for this team who is still learning how to win. A healthy Chauncey Billups sure won’t hurt the Clippers chances either. But they will go as far as the young guns of Griffin, Paul, Travis Leslie, Eric Bledsoe and Trey Thompkins takes them.
The Spurs are relying on old guys to get them back to the Finals. Five of the Spurs main guys, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw have 9 or more years in the league. Duncan has 15. Matt Bonner has 8 years experience. Will this translate into tired legs over the long haul? Probably so.
The Lakers may have some of the same issues. Kobe Bryant is an old 34 years of age. I say old, because those legs have played a lot of basketball. The Lakers make a deep run every season. And Kobe is in is 17th already. Steve Nash is also in his 17th season at age 38. Can these guys get it done with all the young talent in the West? Adding Dwight Howard to the mix will surely help. Dwight is in his prime at 26. He is entering his ninth season in the NBA. But he is also coming off back surgery that many are saying was more serious than was initially reported. Chronic back issues can de-rail a season or even a career. Pau Gasol is entering his 12th season and is now 32. He too, has played a lot of basketball in his career. He seems to be on the decline now.
So it will be interesting to see if old age and experience can win out over youth and energy in the West this season.