Los Angeles Lakers: Andrew Bynum
Erving, speaking in Philadelphia before the premiere of "The Doctor," a documentary on his life, said teams always have to be wary when dealing with teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, who rarely get the short end of trades.
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To say the least, the last seven days have been a whirlwind, even by the Lakers' high standards. With the dust now settled, does the franchise still appear on the right track?
The Los Angeles Lakers have quite enough to keep them up at night as Dwight Howard continues to work his way back from offseason back surgery.
But with Monday's news out of Philadelphia that Bynum received another injection of Synvisc -- a gel-like substance that sometimes provides relief for inflamed tissue -- in his knee, it raises a larger question:
Whose problems would you rather be saddled with: Bynum's chronically painful, injured knees or Howard's still-unproven back?
It was a question Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had to answer over the summer before he made the trade that sent Bynum to Philadelphia in a four-team deal that brought Howard to Los Angeles from Orlando.
"Whatever concern we had (with Bynum's knees) was offset by Dwight coming off offseason back surgery," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Tuesday. "Our doctors were able to look at (Howard's medical records) but not until after the trade, which was conditional on him passing a physical."
Howard has been cleared to participate in full-contact scrimmages but has yet to play in any of the Lakers' first four exhibition games.
Bynum was able to participate in 60 of the Lakers' 66 games last season, but he took the entire summer to rest and recuperate from the increased workload, skipping the Olympics in the process.
You'd think after a summer off, he'd be ready to go at the start of training camp. But he has yet to participate in training camp with his new team as he continues to recover from a cutting-edge treatment on his knee he received in Germany, and a bone bruise on his knee.
As 76ers CEO Adam Aron tweeted: "If all goes to plan, he's back Oct 24. But we won't know how the knee feels for sure until, no surprise, Oct 24. While conditioning in Sept, unrelated to German procedure, he got a bone bruise which we transparently announced. From there, he has to get into game shape. That is everything Sixers know. The rest of the loose talk is guessing."
Bynum's former teammate Metta World Peace seconded that sentiment:
"I think he's going to be amazing this year," World Peace said. "He's tough. That year we won the championship (2010), he was playing through a lot of pain. A lot of pain. But we needed him. I don't think we could've won without him.
"Last year he played in a lot of games. The last couple years he's been dominant. And he's still young. You need him on your team."
Thus, Shaq has taken many a shot at Dwight Howard over the years, the most recent coming last week during a TNT roundtable discussion for NBA.com. During the segment, Shaq claims that because Howard is more of a "pick-and-roll" center rather than one who "plays inside" (huh?) and O'Neal is "old school," he'd place back-to-the-basket centers Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez ahead of Dwight.
OK, you wanna make an argument Bynum is better than Howard? Fine. I don't agree, but Drew's at least good enough to present a worthy, if ultimately losing, case. Brook Lopez, however, is nothing short of crazy talk. Asked for his reaction to Shaq's opinion, Howard treated the comments as such:
"I don't care what Shaq says. Shaq played the game. He's done. He's gone. It's time to move on. He hated the fact, you know, that when he played, the older guys were talking about him and how he played, and now he's doing the exact same thing. Just let it go. There's no sense for him to be talking trash at me. He did his thing in the league. He's one of the most dominant players that ever played the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up.
"I don't really care. I don't really care. He can say whatever he wanna say."
Dwight was equally dismissive of the idea of eventually getting on "the same page" as Shaq.
"What do we need to get on the same page for? I have respect for him and what he did for basketball. That's it. Like I said, he's already did his thing. He played. And when my time is up, there's gonna be somebody else who can do everything that I can do. Probably do it better. And instead of me talking about him, I'll do my job to try to help him get to where I'm at. I think that's what guys who've done it before us should do."
On a few levels, good for Dwight.
Save bringing point guard/Kobe confidant Derek Fisher back into the fold, Mitch Kupchak and Dr. Buss responded to the outburst by presenting Bryant a roster essentially untouched. Thus, speculation swirled as to whether 24 would actually report to camp. Lest anybody assume this was simply the media churning the waters to create drama, think again. After 15-20 minutes with no sign of Kobe, I vividly remember Kwame Brown asking me if I'd seen the superstar, and if I knew whether he was gonna show up. This was truly the $1,000,000 question, and nobody was quite sure how the day would shake out.
Eventually, Kobe did emerge, palpably unenthusiastic, but committed to remaining professional. The season turned out considerably better than expected, even before Pau Gasol trade. Since then, Kobe has collected his fourth and fifth rings, and despite this offseason presenting seemingly few avenues for upgrading a team stuck in good-but-not-great purgatory, we're now looking at a starting five of Steve Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Dwight Howard.
And Oct. 1, 2007 feels about 100 years in the rear view mirror.
It reminds me of this exchange between Glen (Sam McMurray) and H.I. (Nicolas Cage) in Raising Arizona:
Glen: It's a crazy world.
H.I.: Someone oughta sell tickets.
Glen: Sure, I'd buy one.
Enjoy the season.
“He’s going to need two defenders to stop him; I would say he’s the best big man in the NBA right now, hands down,” said Wright, speaking at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “He’s a guy that can give you baskets with his back to the basket; a guy who makes free throws at 7-feet. You’ve just got to respect him.”
At that point I interjected, asking him if he calls Bynum the best big man in the league because they are now on the same team. Or could it be because Howard is on the mend from back surgery?
“No way, I’d say it any day. It’s because I know he can put his back to the basket and give us a basket and request a double team and make free throws,” Wright continued. “It’s his all-around game. Hopefully he can stay healthy and we can ride, he can put us on his back and he can take us as far as we can go.”
Like most, I believe a healthy Dwight Howard is unquestionably better than Bynum, and more importantly is a better fit with a Steve Nash-directed offense. Still, you'd expect Wright to pump up his guy, just like Metta World Peace called Bynum the best center in basketball until the Lakers flipped him for Howard.
While there are likely to be some growing pains as Bynum adjusts to being a true first option offensively -- remember, playing that role over seven games last season for an injured Kobe Bryant, Bynum shot under 50 percent -- overall he should thrive if he can stay healthy. He'll be energized by the increased responsibility in ways he never would or could have in L.A. Hopefully, too, he'll begin to understand all the ancillary stuff that goes along with being a franchise player, and his more nonsensical moments on and off the floor won't recur.
And if he does all that, despite the backflips most Lakers fans turned when the trade was announced, Bynum exists as a massive reminder, literally and figuratively, of the risk absorbed by the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak in making the deal. Meaning until all the boxes are ticked -- Howard returns from injury, Howard returns to dominant form, Howard looks like a great fit now and going forward, Howard re-signs with the Lakers at the end of the year -- that little hint of nervousness won't go away.
(H/T: Ball Don't Lie)
This particular game saw the Lakers up nine points to begin the fourth quarter, 13 with 8:02 remaining, then back down to nine with half of the quarter to go. The bottom eventually fell out with a series of clumsy and/or empty possessions, capped by the mother of all unforced turnovers from Pau Gasol.
Westbrook shredded the Lakers as they fell apart down the stretch.
Nash and Howard are among the best pick-and-roll players in the league, which could have provided cohesion desperately missing during this stretch. Beyond his proven resume at getting buckets, Jamison can create his own shot, a skill set in short supply last season. And while the odds of Meeks on the floor down the stretch are dicier, there were a few occasions where a credible outside shooter was glaringly absent.
More specifically, here are some possessions where Nash and Howard especially seemed capable of making a difference.
6:31: Russell Westbrook uses a screen to reach the right elbow, is met with a hesitant challenge from Andrew Bynum, then drains a jumper before Steve Blake recovers. Nash might not have defended the possession any better, but Westbrook took over this game down the stretch, in part because less energy is sapped checking Blake or Ramon Sessions than Nash. Granted, Westbrook's elbow J is often deadly, but who knows how much gas would have been left in the tank after guarding Nash all game? (LAL 92, OKC 85)
6:03: This point above is ironically demonstrated as Blake (of all people) takes the ball to the rim for a layup. Blake was able to take Westbrook off the dribble because the Lakers point went completely ignored on a backdoor baseline cut, then Russ got caught on his heels in scramble mode. For that matter, Blake's game-winning 3-ball attempt in Game 2 came after Westbrook fell asleep guarding him. Call me crazy, but I don't think he'd treat Nash with the same ambivalence. (LAL 94, OKC 85)
Iggy should help Denver on both sides of the ball.
Andy Kamenetzky: What was the general reaction in the Roundball Mining community when word hit the street about Dwight Howard joining the Lakers?
Jeremy Wagner: The real story revolving around the Howard trade for Denver was obviously the acquisition of Iguodala. There was a angry subdivision of fans who were very upset that the Nuggets took part in ushering Howard to the Lakers. After the loss in the playoffs to LA and the addition of Steve Nash, most fans viewed the Lakers superior to Denver anyway. The addition of Howard only increased the gulf. Any hope of catching them this season is gone.
AK: Well, even if they can't catch the Lakers, how capable is Denver of pushing them with Iggy on board?
JW: The addition of Igoudala is a tremendous one for Denver. Arron Afflalo's defense had really fallen off from where it was a couple of seasons ago and Igoudala will certainly help in that area. Plus, Igoudala is a much better passer, fits better into Denver's drive-and-kick offense, and should flourish in the open floor. I believe a healthy Nuggets team will be the third best team in the West, barely ahead of the Clippers.
Is there any concern that with such a small window, based on the ages of Kobe and Nash, this team cannot afford taking a year to jell?
Brian Kamenetzky: No question. There are definitely moving parts to integrate. In theory, Howard doesn't demand a massive adjustment -- it's not like the Lakers aren't accustomed to a high end center -- but in a lot of ways he's a very different player than Andrew Bynum. More mobile, more effective in the pick-and-roll. Plus, he's been "the guy" since entering the league. With the Lakers, he will, at least to some degree, have to give a little. And Nash is a huge change, a point guard capable of putting a game on a string, the type of player Kobe Bryant has never teamed with. Defensively, I think they'll be okay, since Howard makes things easier for everyone else. But this is at best a two-year experiment thanks to age and finances, and if it doesn't yield at least one title, people will be upset.
The moves have been bold and plentiful. Steve Nash then Antawn Jamison then Dwight Howard, with Jodie Meeks and a re-signed Jordan Hill tossed in for good measure. In the process, the Lakers went from barely relevant in the championship conversation (the "barely" due more to Kobe Bryant's star power and the cache of the franchise than any realistic title shot) to smack dab in the middle of it. Maybe even leading. If you made a list of shortcomings for the Lakers after last year -- outside shooting, shot creation, point guard, defense bench depth -- the Lakers have managed to address each one.
They're still not perfect (no team is) but the transformation has been stunning. We start the show admitting how little we believed this sort of thing would be possible when the curtain fell on the '10-'11 campaign. (2:30)
-From there, it's on to where the Lakers stand relative to other powerhouses across the league. Are they better than Oklahoma City? Granted, it's early (pre-early, really) but how do the matchups look right now? (10:30)
-So what does all of this mean for Mike Brown? Obviously the pressure ratchets up with the now sky-high expectations, and almost by definition puts Brown on the hot seat. On the other hand, when is the seat for L.A.'s head coach ever cold? What challenges does he face going forward? (22:30)
-Reflecting on Andrew Bynum, including some clips from his introductory press conference in Philadelphia. (28:00)
-Finally, we bust open ESPNLandOLakers Twitter mailbag! Questions were sent, questions were answered. Was yours among them? (34:00)
With Howard in L.A., the game just changed between the Lakers and Spurs.
But this off-season it appears the scales have been tilted towards Los Angeles. For some perspective on how the new-look Lakers appear from San Antonio, we talked via email with Tim Varner from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog.
Land O' Lakers: What was the general reaction in the 48 Minutes of Hell-osphere when word broke that Howard was heading to the Lakers?
Timothy Varner: In general, we recognize that it puts the Spurs behind the Thunder and the Lakers in the West. Even worse, the Nuggets improved themselves as well. The Spurs could be fourth in the West.
LOL: But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .
TV: The worst part about the Howard trade is the Spurs' weaknesses along the front line. The Lakers not only improved themselves, they did so in a way that exploits one of San Antonio's roster deficiencies.
LOL: How much can someone like a (theoretically) improved Tiago Splitter help? And I guess this might actually keep DeJuan Blair in town.
TV: I don't think either player helps, unfortunately. Splitter does not do well against Howard, and Blair will be traded as soon as the Spurs find a good partner. He's an especially awful matchup against Howard and Gasol. Splitter, I should also note, is an expiring contract with good value whom San Antonio may not be able to afford next season. So, somewhat counter-intuitively, Howard could force the Spurs to move Splitter for a roster upgrade at another position.
LOL: On the plus side, nobody will mind if Boris Diaw packs those pounds back on. It might be necessary.
TV: True, but within the Spurs' offense, Diaw is more of a passer for the p-and-r than a post player. So even his re-signing tilts away from bolstering the frontcourt in the sense of matching bodies with bodies.
LOL: That's too bad, because there's always a 50/50 chance Diaw will be wearing a "bro" to begin the season. The weight might as well provide some utility.
TV: I suspect the Spurs understand they can't match Howard and Gasol, so they will look to beat the Lakers in other ways.
LOL: Run them off the court, I assume? Or pick-and-roll them to death? Last season, Manu Ginobli and especially Tony Parker dizzied the Lakers with multiple pick-and-roll sets, often within the same possession.
TV: That's right. Pace and p-and-r are better options for San Antonio than adding more (seemingly useless) bodies to the front court. Look at what the Spurs have done this off-season. They added Nado De Colo, re-signed Patty Mills (high pace point with range) re-signed Danny Green, and concentrated on the development of Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph. Those are all moves with San Antonio's offensive attack in mind, especially as it originates from the back court.
Don't give me any of that "Yeah, but the Lakers could have won!" stuff, either. In the NBA, when a team beats another 4-1 over a seven-game series, it's better, and usually by a lot. Period.
Of course, that Lakers team didn't have Dwight Howard. Or Steve Nash. Or bench scoring in the form of Antawn Jamison. Needless to say, the Summer of Jitch (Jim and Mitch -- feel free to go with Miim if you'd like) has changed the conversation significantly. With that in mind, how do the new-look Lakers match up with other contenders around the NBA? In an effort to froth up some preseason debate, we're chatting up bloggers around the Association, starting in OKC with our man Royce Young, proprietor of the outstanding Daily Thunder:
Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: So what was the reaction in Oklahoma City to the Dwight trade?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: I'm not going to go all Kevin Durant and pretend it didn't catch my attention. Because it's huge. It's unavoidable to act like this doesn't shift the balance of power toward Los Angeles. The Thunder very likely had a fairly wide open road back to the Finals next season, but now there is a legitimate road block in the way. I wouldn't say it was complete fear. Oklahoma City didn't start shaking or anything. But it was definitely attention-grabbing. The Thunder are still very good, match up well and have weapons to combat what the Lakers have, but to try and ignore what L.A. has done is silly.
LOL: Yeah, he's very McKayla Moroney about it all. (Note: Joke stolen from J.A. Adande.)
RY: Jimmy Fallon asked KD and Harden about it Monday night and that was the exact thing they did.
LOL: I can see why they'd be annoyed. They're young, and don't want to look like they're concerned about anything other than themselves and their team. But how do you think Howard impacts the matchup? This is even before we get to Nash, and an improving bench for L.A.
RY: See, I thought the Nash signing was maybe a bigger deal, at least in terms of impacting the Thunder. Because nothing really changes too much for OKC. Kendrick Perkins was on the roster to defend Andrew Bynum and now he just moves to defending Dwight Howard. But Nash, he makes everybody more threatening. Pau Gasol is a fourth option, but with Nash running the controls, he's a monster, massive threat. Howard improves the Lakers defensively, no doubt. He makes them a little more versatile. But I don't think too much has changed in the way the Thunder will approach playing the Lakers. Not to say there's an advantage there now for L.A., but OKC won't have to adjust too much to match up.
Perkins has to be thankful, too. Mitch Kupchak just kept him relevant.
LOL: Mitch is a giver, there's no question.
With the Lakers now boasting among the splashiest starting fives in league history, naysayers are quick to cite the 2004 Lakers as a worst-case scenario.
Three members of the last big four in L.A.
The comparison is inevitable, but also lazy. Yes, there are commonalities. Both teams featured four big names, each of which is a lock or near-lock for the Hall of Fame. Both teams were built by Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family with the blueprint of "championship or bust." But a deeper look makes it pretty obvious that there are massive differences. Most negatives surrounding the 2004 squad were part of a specific backstory, one not shared by the 2012 team. Below are four huge factors favoring the 2012 big four.
1. The coach and players are on better terms.
The discord between Kobe and Phil has been documented to death by now, most famously in "The Last Season," Jackson's diary of the tumultuous 2004 season. (Ironically, Phil was prompted to return in part to amend his largely negative portrayal of Kobe.) But the Mamba wasn't the only player failing to see eye to eye with The Zen Master. Payton sulked over his role in the triangle, and The Glove was often a tough customer when happy as a clam, never mind when he was surly. Those misgivings spilled onto the court and resulted in a watered-down version of Payton.
This year's incarnation, however, features no such conflicts. That's not to say everyone has bought into Mike Brown, no questions asked. Some prominent holdovers, notably Kobe, Gasol and Metta World Peace, expressed skepticism about their new coach throughout 2012, and I imagine Brown still hasn't truly proven himself. However, there's a difference between disenchantment and defiance, and the player who openly chafed most at Brown's authority -- Andrew Bynum -- is now the starting center in Philadelphia. Players and coach may still be feeling each other out, but outright hostility doesn't appear to be looming.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Once again, the United States has a gold medal in Olympic basketball, and the natural order of the roundball world remains intact.
When it was over, Kobe Bryant acknowledged Sunday's game against Spain was his Team USA swan song. "This is it for me," he said. "The other guys are good to go."
It's an exit for Bryant on the international stage (or at least the stage of international competition -- watching his reception in London shows Kobe's career as an international superstar isn't ending anytime soon), where he had a great deal of success. It also foreshadows what's coming, domestically. More than once this summer, Kobe has made reference to playing two or three more years, not necessarily beyond, meaning significant moments like one last gold-medal game are no longer on some distant horizon. His last All-Star Game, his last in the Garden, his last time in front of the home fans, his last playoff game, and so on.
They're all coming, likely sooner rather than later.
It's in that context the Lakers have completely resurrected their title chances with a stunningly effective offseason. Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are in, and Jordan Hill returns. Among real contributors to last season's team, only Andrew Bynum and Matt Barnes are out. Management didn't make these moves and push the payroll to $100 million just for Kobe -- they wanted to win before he got there, and will want to win when he's gone -- but no question, there's an awareness this chapter of Lakers history is ending, and if it is to be fully taken advantage of, it has to happen now.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After months (and months and months and months) of speculation, the trade finally bringing Dwight Howard to Los Angeles came together quickly. So, too, did the press conference. Howard and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met the media Friday afternoon, and to say the least there was a buzz at the team facility in El Segundo.
For what it's worth, Howard seemed genuinely excited not just about the end of the Dwightmare, but more specifically to be in Los Angeles. And seated next to him, Kupchak looked equally satisfied. Given the challenges facing them heading into the offseason -- zero cap space, no draft picks of value, only a mini-mid level and veteran's minimum contracts to offer, trade chips difficult to turn into superior talent since they're already very good (Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol) -- this becomes one of the most impressive offseasons in modern league history.
After the big Howard show ended, Kupchak answered more questions for the assembled writerly hordes and delivered some interesting comments on the evolution of the deal, Bynum, Mike Brown's reaction to getting Howard while keeping Gasol, and the willingness of the Buss family to spend what's required to win.
The transcript is below...
Going forward, having Dwight, your payroll is huge. Any concern about that?
“Absolutely. Sure, it’s a concern, and if you’re familiar with the collective bargaining agreement, there have been some significant changes made for teams that exceed certain thresholds.
"But once again, over the last year there has been some criticism. When we traded Lamar, that it was just a way to save money, and I think this proves when it comes down to it, and I’ve always said it, certainly nobody who owns a family owned business doesn’t want to make a profit so their business can survive and prosper. But when it comes down to it, Dr. Buss is a very competitive owner, and his family is also very competitive. And when it comes down to making a decision about a couple dollars or a million dollars or 10 million dollars or putting another banner up? He can’t help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."
LOL: If ever there was a quote summarizing why Lakers fans should raise a monument to Dr. Buss, that's it. "He can't help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."
Based on your conversations with team Dwight, how much of a risk is it he’ll walk?
“You know something, we’ve had no discussions? The press conference started at four o’clock. They came into my office at about a quarter to four, and I had a little private chat with Dwight that maybe lasted four or five minutes, and that was it.”
So no point, you never had anything in there to measure his interest in staying here?
“No, in fact our decision was independent of anything you may have read about what maybe his desires were or weren’t. Our feeling was, no matter what anyone says, let’s just get him to Los Angeles and we’ll take our chances.”
Is the thought process that winning takes care of it?
“It’s the organization, ownership, the city of Los Angeles, our ability to win games, surrounding Dwight with players that will make it easier for him to play the game and not have to burden a load that’s maybe not fair."