Andrew Bynum is 7 feet tall, nearly 300 pounds with very good hands, and has an array of post moves that allows him to make 55% of his shots from the field. And he’s only 24 years old!
But for some reason, as the March 15 trade deadline nears, the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly entertaining trade offers for Bynum and Pau Gasol, another 7-footer with guard-like skills and a low-post game that may even be better than his Laker teammate. Have the Lakers completely lost their minds? Did Jim Buss take away Mitch Kupchak’s cell phone and is making the trade calls himself? Does head coach Mike Brown have a say? Where is Dr. Jerry Buss to stop the madness?
Skilled big men are extremely rare in the NBA, and the Lakers have two of them on the payroll. Trading one of them, or both, does not make any sense whatsoever.
What makes the Lakers unique and separates them from the rest of the league is that they have two gifted, All-Star 7-footers in the starting lineup who play well together and own two NBA championship rings. The other 29 teams have trouble matching up with the Lakers because of the sheer size and length of Bynum and Gasol.
Despite their recent success with Bynum and Gasol as the anchors, the Lakers are keeping their options open. Bynum has been rumored to be traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Dwight Howard for a year now ever since Howard made it public that L.A. is one of his popular destinations. During All-Star Weekend, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Lakers were rumored to be involved in a five-player deal that wound send Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to the Lakers, and Bynum and Gasol to the Magic. Orlando general manager Alex Martins told the Sentinel the rumor is false.
Since his return to the lineup after a four-game suspension for slamming little J.J. Barea to the floor during the 2011 playoffs, Bynum has been an absolute beast. He’s averaging 16.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and shooting 54% from the field. He also had his first 20-point, 20-rebound game of his young career when he pulled off the feat against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 3, then repeated the feat on Feb. 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Bynum’s superb first half was rewarded with a starting spot on the West All-Star team, joining teammate Kobe Bryant.
Gasol didn’t make the All-Star team this season, but his 17-point, 10-rebound average is among the league’s best at his position.
With the combination of Bryant-Gasol-Bynum, the Lakers are a championship contender. It’s a formula that was proven right in 2009 and 2010 when L.A. hosted parades on Figueroa Boulevard. Health is the only issue with Bynum, but he seems to have found a way to stay on the court this season (knock on wood).
Again, the question remains: why are the Lakers so quick to give up on a 24-year-old beast of a center for basically the same model?
Former Lakers All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal playfully calls Bynum “the best center in the NBA.” Although the Diesel’s claim may be tongue-in-cheek since he always tries to find a way to dig at Howard for stealing his Superman moniker, there is some truth to Shaq’s hyperbole. Here five reasons why the Lakers shouldn’t trade Bynum for Howard:
1 — Bynum has far better low-post moves than Howard. Bynum may not possess Howard’s incredible leaping ability, but he is more efficient on offense than Superman II. Bynum can shoot with either hand, has very good touch around the basket, and possesses a classic back-to-the-basket game that seems to have gone away in today’s NBA since Shaq retired.
2 — Bynum is bigger than Howard. If size matters, then Bynum has the edge. He’s a legit 7-footer, may even be closer to 7-1, and weighs 285 pounds. The 265-pound Howard, on the other hand, is listed at 6-11 but he’s probably closer to 6-10. Bynum’s massive frame makes him a bigger target on offense and on defense he doesn’t have to jump too high to block shots, saving himself from being totally out of position.
3 — Bynum has a thicker skin than Howard. When it comes to absorbing criticism, Howard fails the eye test because he tends to be a cry baby. When the Magic and Celtics met in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics’ game plan was to frustrate Howard and get him off his game. Howard got sucked into a physical war with Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis, and the Magic got eliminated.
4 — Bynum is a better free-throw shooter. As good as Howard is on defense, his offense remains a work in progress and his free-throw shooting is a huge liability in the last five minutes of a close ballgame. Bynum is not a lights-out shooter from the line by any means, but at 62% is still light years better than Howard’s pitiful 49%.
5 — Bynum knows how to win a championship. A lot should be said about championship experience, and Bynum owns plenty of it. A Bryant-Howard combo may provide more star power but it is not battle tested in the playoffs. Bryant knows he can count on Bynum and Gasol when it matters most. There is a certain level of comfort and trust that’s already there, and there is no guarantee Howard will be able to mesh with Bryant on offense especially if the Lakers don’t get a quality point guard (sorry, Jameer Nelson is not a true point guard).
Despite their so-so first half of the season (by Laker standards anyways), the Lakers still pose the biggest threat to the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs. If the Lakers can find a deal for a point guard that doesn’t involve their two 7-footers, then you may see a Lakers vs. Heat NBA Finals in 2012.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.