“Skin in the Game” is a column by Joe Skinner about L.A. basketball.
With the Dodgers playing in a win-or-go-home Game 4 against the San Francisco Giants — their greatest rival and the (other) best team in baseball — Los Angeles sports fans could be forgiven for missing the Lakers’ fifth preseason game Tuesday night.
It turned out they didn’t miss much as it was a 111-99 loss to a Golden State Warriors team without Steph Curry and Draymond Green.
That being said, the game was notable in that it marked the first time that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the team’s newest superstar, Russell Westbrook, all shared time on the court as Lakers. It was not the first time they’ve shared the court as teammates, however.
James, Davis and Westbrook were members of the gold medal-winning United States men’s basketball team at the London Olympics in 2012. So was Westbrook’s fellow new Laker, Carmelo Anthony.
In total, there were five members of that team on the court Tuesday night as Golden State’s Andre Iguodala logged 23 minutes off the bench, and six gold medalists with the addition of Lakers center Dwight Howard, who won with Team USA in 2008.
Though he didn’t play Tuesday, DeAndre Jordan — the Lakers’ other center — also won Olympic gold in 2016.
While a roster featuring six Olympic champions looks great on paper, the 2008 Games ended more than 13 years ago and the 2012 Games ended nearly a decade ago.
Since London, James went on to win his second title in Miami, returned to Cleveland for four seasons where he won his third title, then came to the Lakers, won another title and is now entering his fourth season with the organization.
Westbrook played another seven seasons in Oklahoma City before being traded to the Houston Rockets, then to the Washington Wizards and finally to the Lakers, which marks his fourth team in as many seasons.
Carmelo Anthony played another five seasons for the New York Knicks, was traded to OKC, signed with Houston for a veterans minimum contract, was traded to Chicago and waived, signed with the Portland Trail Blazers for two seasons and found a role as a bench scorer.
Dwight Howard joined the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers for one year, signed with Houston for three, then began a six-year streak of playing for a new team each season. It began in Atlanta, then Charlotte, Washington, the Lakers again for the 2019-20 championship season, Philadelphia, and now Howard has returned for his third stint in Los Angeles.
A lot can happen in nine years.
Despite losing to a depleted Golden State roster Tuesday night and remaining winless in the preseason, Lakers fans have plenty of reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season.
Of the five Olympians on the Lakers’ roster, Davis is the player who — it could be argued — is still in the peak of his physical prime. Though he enters his 10th season in the league, Davis is only 27 and shows no signs of physical decline. That being said, he has earned a reputation as injury-prone, having failed to play every game of a season thus far in his career.
His health and availability will be crucial for the team this season. James and Westbrook are at their best as scoring threats when driving to the rim, so Davis’ ability to play center and space the floor with his efficient mid-range and 3-point shot has never been more valuable.
Howard and Jordan — the Lakers’ other centers — are both notorious for their lack of shooting ability. But what they lack in floor spacing, mid-range and 3-point efficiency, they tend to make up for in interior scoring and offensive rebounding. So while James and Westbrook may struggle to get to the rim with Howard and Jordan clogging lanes into the paint, they should be able to take advantage of both as lob threats.
James and Westbrook aren’t the only playmakers on this Lakers roster, either. Rajon Rondo returns to the team for his second stint after spending last season with Atlanta and the Clippers.
James, Westbrook and Rondo currently rank eighth, 12th and 14th among all-time leaders in career assists, respectively. They rank second, third and fourth among active players behind Chris Paul. Collectively, they have tallied over 25,000 assists in their careers. That’s an awful lot of “basketball IQ” for one team.
But basketball IQ isn’t the only intangible that will be in ample supply on this Lakers roster. It features 10 players with nine or more years of experience in the league, five of whom have 15 or more.
Yes, with experience comes age and with age comes physical decline and increased risk of injury. But — as Oscar Wilde famously said — “with age comes wisdom, though sometimes age comes alone.” Lakers fans will hope that the collective age of this roster brings with it plenty of wisdom, and that they can just forget about the second half of that quote.
“Skin in the Game” typically runs Wednesdays.