Rarely does Kobe Bryant take a back seat in any Laker game, but Friday is one of those rare exceptions when he’ll be reduced to a sideshow, at least before the opening tip. Because it’s all about Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, two centers who might be wearing each other’s uniform by next season.
That’s how this is being hyped already in Orlando in the most anticipated game of the year so far, so says Josh Robbins in the Orlando Sentinel:
The Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard must make momentous choices about their futures in the weeks ahead. Those decisions, whatever they turn out to be, could affect Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
That is what makes Friday’s Magic-Lakers matchup at Amway Center so intriguing. The Magic’s current center could be facing the Magic’s center of the future.
To understand how Bynum compares to Howard, the Orlando Sentinel asked an executive for an NBA team, ESPN analyst Jon Barry and NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott to evaluate Bynum. Their conclusions are similar: Although Bynum is a very good player who is improving, he simply is not on Howard’s level.
“If you took Bynum and put him on the Orlando Magic, they’re not 10-4 right now,” Barry said. “There’s just no way. I don’t see him as being a guy that carries a team. He’s not a franchise player. Dwight Howard is a franchise player.”
Howard is off to a monster start, with four 20-20 games, most recently his 24 points and 25 rebounds against the Spurs. Bynum is healthy and much improved and is having the best start of his career, averaging 16 and 14 and shooting 53 percent. But of course, this isn’t about numbers or anything, this is about Howard approaching free agency and wanting Bynum’s job. So there is a juicy backdrop in the works and it’ll be interesting how these two centers, perhaps the best in basketball at the moment, go at each other.
And then the debate will continue: Are the Lakers better off by keeping Bynum, who comes cheaper, doesn’t demand the ball and puts up All-Star numbers? Or should they trade Bynum and a pair of old Jerry West sneakers for Howard and put a championship sparkle to Kobe’s sunset years?
Obviously, it’s really not up to the Lakers; Orlando must pull the trigger, although Bynum is about the best the Magic can expect in a trade at this point. But the Lakers would be foolish to keep Bynum over Howard. As good as Bynum looks right now, he’s not in Howard’s league defensively (who is?), and other teams don’t have to gameplan for Bynum as they do for Howard. Besides, Howard stays in terrific shape and mainly injury-free. Do you trust Bynum’s knees in the long run? Thought so, too. Bynum is only 24, but his body seems much older.
Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi suspects the Lakers will ultimately poach Howard from the Magic as they did Shaquille O’Neal over a decade ago, although Howard’s agents also have spoken with the Mavericks and Nets. The appeal of the Lakers is obvious, same with the idea of playing next to Dirk Nowitzki and possibly Deron Williams if he decides to leave the Nets.
For one night, however, we’ll see what happens on the floor. Especially how Bynum rises to the challenge. He doesn’t want to leave LA, and because he has pride, would love nothing more than to show he’s closer to Howard in talent than people think. I’d point to Howard’s string of Defensive Player of the Year awards and disagree. But for now, we’ll leave it in the hands of the players. And you, the readers. Who ya got?