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The Young & Old: How Experience Affected The 1999 NBA Title

Someone brought us up for air. For nearly four months, we’ve been struggling to stay afloat, the water seeping into our mouths, wrinkling our skin and leaving us struggling desperately for air whenever we get the chance. You’d think a lockout would affect the players the most. But no. They were prepared for this (at least it seems everyone outside of Delonte West). The fans weren’t.

Finally, we’ve been given a chance to breath. This week’s meetings left everyone feeling confident, or at least hopeful, that a day might be coming soon where we can kiss this lockout goodbye. Reports say a deal is on the table. It’s just a matter of the two sides negotiating and giving in a little. But even if they do strike a deal within the week, we can’t expect the season to start for some time. Guys need to report, get in shape, have some semblance of a training camp and the schedule needs to be re-done. Ah, that’s the big sticking point.

We’ve written at length about how this lockout will or won’t affect certain teams this season (if we do have a shortened schedule); It’s interesting because it could go either way. Take a team like Boston. On one hand, they’re pretty old, or at least their best players – the guys they rely on for Ws – are on the downside, so perhaps less games would help them. At the same time, what’s the hardest thing for an older player to do? (I’m sure many of the readers can point to this). It’s playing back-to-back games, or three in four nights. A condensed schedule means many of these trips. There’s no way that helps an older team, at least in theory. Knees are brittle. Backs ache. Bodies strain, or collapse all together.

[Related: The NBA Lockout’s Effect On Jersey Sales]

There’s no way to tell exactly what’ll happen, but we can look at history. The 1998-99 season is a perfect example. Fifty games in three months, teams rarely had even two days in a row off. It was a sprint instead of a marathon, leaving the on-court product slightly forgettable. Here are how the ages of the NBA’s best teams stacked up.

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The MVP
Karl Malone (35 years old) – He got this pretty much by default. There really weren’t any runaway candidates (not enough time to build a story to get the people to back someone).

The Champs
San Antonio Spurs
Rotation’s average age: 30 years old
Starters: Tim Duncan (22 years old), David Robinson (33), Sean Elliot (30), Avery Johnson (33) and Mario Elie (35)
Bench: Jaren Jackson (31), Malik Rose (24), Antonio Daniels (23), Steve Kerr (33), Jerome Kersey (36)
They were old yes, but their anchor was a 22-year-old beast, on his way to becoming perhaps the best player ever at his position. They ran through the second half of the season and the playoffs. After starting 6-8, they went 31-5 to finish the regular season, then lost just two playoffs games. Completely dominant.

The Runner-Ups
New York Knicks
Rotation’s average age: 29.1
Starters: Allan Houston (27), Patrick Ewing (36), Larry Johnson (29), Kurt Thomas (26), Charlie Ward (28)
Bench: Latrell Sprewell (28), Marcus Camby (24), Chris Childs (31), Chris Dudley (33)
As up and down as you can get throughout the regular season, their longest winning streak was four games. Most of their players were right in their prime or at least still had something left. It was injuries to Johnson and Ewing that killed them against the Spurs (who were better anyways).

[Related: The Top 10 NBA Teams Most Affected By The Lockout]

Final Four
Portland Trail Blazers
Rotation’s average age: 28.1
Starters: Isaiah Rider (27), Damon Stoudamire (25), Arvydas Sabonis (34), Brian Grant (26), Rasheed Wallace (24)
Bench: Jim Jackson (28), Stacey Augmon (30), Greg Anthony (31) and Walt Williams (28)
Young team that was just coming together, they were even younger mentally. Their two best players were guys you couldn’t totally rely on. Still they took out the old guard, the Jazz, in the second round (the team w/ the best record in the West – along with S.A. – and the MVP) rather easily.

Indiana Pacers
Rotation’s average age: 31.2
Starters: Reggie Miller (33), Rik Smits (32), Chris Mullin (35), Dale Davis (29), Mark Jackson (33)
Bench: Jalen Rose (26), Antonio Davis (30), Travis Best (26), Sam Perkins (37)
Ran through pretty much everyone in the East – swept the first two rounds – but couldn’t deal with New York’s athletes. Thinking back, I remembered them as a team with a nice mix of youth, athleticism and experience. Now, it doesn’t look like that at all.

Other contenders (Rotation’s average age in parentheses):
Utah Jazz, 37-13… lost in the semis: (30 – best players were 36, 35, 35, and 28)
Miami Heat, 33-17… lost in the first round: (30.1 – best players were 32, 29, 28 and 26)
Orlando Magic, 33-17… lost in the first round: (27.8 – best players were 31, 30 and 27)
Houston Rockets, 31-19… lost in the first round: (29.3 – best players were 36, 35 and 33)
L.A. Lakers, 31-19… lost in the semis: (27.6 – best players were 31, 26 and 20)
Atlanta Hawks, 31-19… lost in the semis: (29.1 – best players were 32, 31, 29 and 26)

For perspective, here are some average rotation ages for teams from last season (no way to tell just yet what they’ll look like this year):
Dallas Mavericks: (30.1 – best players were 37, 33, 32 and 28)
Miami Heat: (29 – best players were 29, 26 and 26)
Oklahoma City Thunder: (23.8 – best players were 22, 22, 21 and 21)
Chicago Bulls: (26 – best players were 29, 25, 25, 22)

Does a shortened season hurt or help veteran teams?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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