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Lakers need youth, not experience

Why does the aging NBA star perennially become a free-agent darling in the eyes of fans?

When will they learn?

How many photos of a Hakeem Olajuwon Raptors jersey, Patrick Ewing Sonics jersey or Charles Barkley Rockets jersey have to show up tagged on the blog Hipster Runoff before we all realize this is a bad idea?

(I mean to say, the signing of a past-his-prime star is a bad idea. But while we're at it, the hipster fashion statement of wearing a Champion-brand retro jersey with a pair of skinny jeans and TOMS is pretty bad, too.)

Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter highlight this year's crop of former All-Stars who will pique the interest of basketball's fan base and inevitably wind up getting dollars offered their way by a basketball team's brain trust somewhere across the league.

McGrady is an unrestricted free agent who ended up finding a role as a hybrid point forward with Detroit last season, averaging 8.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in his 14th season. It was a far cry from the T-Mac who registered back-to-back scoring titles in the early part of the century with the Magic.

Carter is expected to be released by the Phoenix Suns once the moratorium on moves is lifted after the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified. Carter split 2010-11 between Orlando and Phoenix in his 13th season. His averages of 13.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 42.2 percent shooting with the Suns all would be career lows as season averages. Once considered one of the greatest dunkers to ever live, the now perimeter-oriented Carter had nearly three times as many 3-pointers (116) last season as he did dunks (36, according to CBSSports.com's Dunk-O-Meter).

Yet the memories of McGrady's 13 points in 35 seconds against the Spurs and Carter's half-man, half-amazing act at the 2000 dunk contest make both of these guys seem more attractive free-agent additions than they probably will pan out to be.

A team such as the Los Angeles Lakers, so far into the luxury tax that the only means available for them to sign a free agent other than by offering the veteran's minimum is by using the mini-midlevel exception (approximately $9.4 million over three years), is better off taking a chance on a young player who could improve from year to year than a star who is clearly on the decline.

"We're hopeful there's a player out there who's made money in his career and is on the back end and is looking at a championship, or a player who is developing," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last week. "That's harder to do."

Lakers fans can quit clamoring for McGrady. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported Wednesday that the Atlanta Hawks and McGrady have agreed to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal.

Atlanta apparently didn't learn its lesson after dodging a bullet last season when the Hawks reportedly offered a two-year deal to Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq went to Boston instead, and retired after averaging only 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 37 games. He got paid nearly $3 million for the season.

When unrestricted Lakers free agent Shannon Brown signs with another team, as he is expected to do, a well-intentioned but off-base sect of L.A. fans will pine for Carter to fill Brown's spot.

They will conveniently forget the 2003-04 Lakers season that nearly imploded at several junctures with a step-slower Gary Payton and a shade-weaker Karl Malone trying to fit into a team owned by O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, while still holding on to the personas that made them the all-time greats that they are.

Even worse was the case when Mitch Richmond played for the Lakers in 2001-02. After 13 straight seasons of averaging 16 points or more, he came to L.A. and averaged just 4.1 points per game in his final season. Sure, he won a ring, but he played only four total minutes during the Lakers' playoff run that season.

It's not to say a one-time star can never adjust to become a role player on a great team later on in his career. It happens. Alonzo Mourning with Miami and David Robinson with San Antonio come to mind, but they both did it on the same teams where they were once great. A lot of the coaches and trainers and locker room attendants who knew them at their peaks were there at the twilight of their careers, too. They weren't fooling anybody. The players knew they changed, everyone around them knew they changed and so they accepted new roles with their teams for the good of everybody involved.

In fact, one of the most attractive free agents in this year's slim-pickings market is a 39-year-old former face of the league, Grant Hill. The difference with Hill is that he hasn't been an All-Star since 2005. He has no delusions of being the consistent 30, 10 and 10 threat he was with the Pistons back before severe ankle injuries nearly forced him into early retirement.

Maybe there's nothing wrong with fans still lusting for Allen Iverson on message boards and in tweets and on Facebook walls. Maybe it's their right to remember him cupping his hand to his ear in a Sixers uniform and crossing over Tyronn Lue in the Finals instead of picturing him awkwardly holding a blues guitar at his introductory news conference in Memphis or taking too many shots for the Pistons.

Just as long as GMs and team owners don't do the same.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.