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Cavs the oldest in a long line of old LeBron teams

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Wade becoming bench player for first time in career (1:01)

Brian Windhorst reacts to Dwyane Wade asking Tyronn Lue to come off bench instead of being in the starting lineup. (1:01)

On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Chicago Bulls, two teams that might end up at opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings by the end of the season. But they already are at the extremes in another important area: age.

Chicago, with an average age of 24, is the youngest team in the NBA. Cleveland, whose average age is 30, is the oldest.

This continues a trend that has followed LeBron James from Cleveland to Miami and back again. Since the 2009-10 season, James has typically been on teams with championship expectations and some stress about keeping their superstar happy for contractual reasons. The result has been a steady stream of veterans and some of the oldest rosters in the league.

James' teams have been among the NBA's five oldest in six of the past eight years, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. This was the age of the players who actually played the minutes, not affected by players near retirement or G League call-ups who may have stayed on the end of the bench.

The 2017-18 Cavs have a chance to be the oldest team James has ever played on. During the first week of the season, the average age of the Cavs' lineup was 30.3 years old. That would be the second-oldest team James has ever shared the court with after the 2013-14 Miami Heat, who averaged 30.5 years. After Game 5 of the Finals that season, two starters (Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis) and the top reserve (Shane Battier) ended up retiring.

The Heat -- who consistently relied on veteran free agents when James was there, from Mike Bibby to Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Erick Dampier to Jerry Stackhouse -- ranked in the league's top five for oldest teams in all four seasons James was there.

There are two primary reasons for this trend.

One is that James' teams have been loaded with star players making big salaries. As a result, his teams had limited free-agent options and also dealt with luxury-tax pressures. James' teams in Miami and Cleveland have paid the luxury tax six seasons in a row and this year will almost certainly be the seventh.

So over and over, James' teams resorted to signing players near the end of their careers who were willing to play for the league minimum to contend for a title with James.

The other is that James' teams rarely have draft picks, often trading them away in deals for veterans who can help win now or to alleviate money pressures.

Consider this: The last time James played with a fresh first-round pick was back in 2011, when Norris Cole, who was 23 when he played his first game, joined the Heat. This season, James is playing with Ante Zizic, who was a Boston Celtics first-round pick in 2016. The Cavs didn't have a pick of their own in the 2016 or 2017 drafts.

This is James' 11th season playing for the Cavs. In that time, he's played with only three new first-rounders: Luke Jackson in 2004, Shannon Brown in 2006 and J.J. Hickson in 2008. Jackson, who was picked 10th, is the only new lottery pick James has ever played with. And Jackson only lasted in Cleveland for 358 minutes over two seasons.

When James came back to Cleveland in 2014, he joined a team that had been building through the draft in the four seasons he was away. The average age of the 2014-15 Cavs was 26.9, the youngest team James had played on since 2008-09.

But shortly after his arrival, the team began trading away young players in search of seasoned veterans aimed at winning quicker. Within months of his signing, the Cavs had traded Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, their previous three first-round picks. James never played with Wiggins or Bennett, as they were moved to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2014 offseason in the trade that brought over Kevin Love. The Cavaliers later traded away the following year's first-rounder.

By the 2015-16 season, the average age of the roster had surged two years ... and the Cavs won the championship. Last season's Cavs ranked fourth in terms of age of the players on the floor, at 29.4 years.

Some of these numbers have been pulled upward by James himself as he's aged. He will turn 33 in December.

But this Cavs team is just a classic case of the formula for team-building that has surrounded James as he's kept the championship-chasing gas pedal pressed downward over seven consecutive trips to the Finals.

The free agents that the Cavs added in the offseason were all older veterans. Jeff Green turned 31 over the summer. Dwyane Wade will turn 36 in January. Jose Calderon, who will start against the Bulls, turned 36 last month. Kyle Korver, who re-signed with the Cavs, will turn 37 in March.

Derrick Rose is considered to have given the Cavs a shot of youth -- the Cavs described this as an attribute when signing him -- and he turned 29 earlier this month. Even when Isaiah Thomas, who will turn 29 later this season, returns from injury, the Cavs won't be getting much younger.

The Cavs do currently have the Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick and their own first-round pick for next year's draft, opening the possibility of bringing in more youth in the future. Of course, the Cavs can still trade one of those picks under league rules.

If the past decade is an indication, there's a good chance they will, and for a player with at least a few gray hairs.