INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The 50-plus year championship drought is over in Cleveland. And the group the Cavaliers are bringing back to defend that title seems almost as old as that ringless streak the Cavs ended back in June.
The Cavs open training camp Tuesday with the oldest roster in the league, with an average age of 29.7, according to RealGM.com. Their closest competition is the Los Angeles Clippers (29.6). The team they beat in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors, is significantly younger (27.5).
While the Warriors reloaded in the offseason with 27-year-old superstar Kevin Durant, the biggest names the Cavs acquired in the summer are closer to 40 than they are to 30.
Cleveland traded for 36-year-old swingman Mike Dunleavy and signed 38-year-old Chris “Birdman” Andersen as a free agent. They’ll join a roster that already features four other thirty-somethings in LeBron James (31), Channing Frye (33), James Jones (35) and Richard Jefferson (36). If and when the Cavs come to a contract agreement with J.R. Smith (30), half of their roster will be on the wrong side of the big 3-0.
The Cavs are aware of the perception that’s out there but point to the fact that three of their top four players -- outside of James -- are young and in or entering their primes, in Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.
“You know, they talk about us being old and having an experienced team, but Kyrie’s young, Tristan is young, K-Love’s young, [Iman Shumpert] is young, so the core of our team and what we’re trying to do, they’re young,” said coach Tyronn Lue, ironically one of the league’s youngest head coaches at 39 years old. “Plus, LeBron has the body of a 19-year-old, so going forward I just don’t think our team is old. We do have to watch our minutes, and going forward we’ve got to have our health going into the playoffs.”
Cleveland actually got a little younger Monday when 33-year-old Mo Williams had a change of heart after announcing his intention to play one final season and instead chose to retire. His minutes at backup point guard will be occupied, most likely, by some combination of rookie Kay Felder (21), second-year vet Jordan McRae (25) or fourth-year guard DeAndre Liggins (28), who is a camp invitee on a partially-guaranteed deal, a team source told ESPN.com.
Cleveland could pursue another free agent on the market (35-year-old Kirk Hinrich, 30-year-old Mario Chalmers and 27-year-old Norris Cole have all been discussed internally, as first reported by Cleveland.com), but that is not necessarily the Cavs' planned approach.
“We feel very comfortable with where we are at the point guard position, the versatility that we have to absorb that,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said. “We have other people that can guard the position. Because of LeBron, we have additional people that can also play the position offensively, and frankly we’re really excited about finding out what some of the younger players on our roster can do.
"This is a training camp that for the first time since I’ve been here I think will be incredibly competitive, relative to roster spots themselves, and we’re really excited about the guys that we have in camp who have a chance to earn a job, Kay Felder being one of those kids we anticipate will have a good run at something for us, so we feel comfortable at the point guard position as we sit, at least from a front-office perspective we do.”
In a capped system like the NBA has in place, targeting aging players on veteran minimum deals is simply the reality of fielding a full team when you already have max players taking up most of the pie like the Cavs do with James, Irving and Love.
The key is having those vets contribute in the margins, like Jefferson did last year, and not to miss on them, as was the case of Shawn Marion the season before.
Oh, and having someone like James with the body resilience of a teenager as he enters into his thirties certainly helps too.