It’s less than two weeks away from the beginning of the NBA season. Usually at this point in the year, there would be some sort of consensus, or at least disputed consensus, on how the season could play out, and where teams would generally finish at the end of the year. This season, no matter who you ask, from the most excitedly overzealous super fan to a jaded old beat reporter, I don’t think that one person could give a correct appraisal for how the 2011-2012 NBA season will look like in June. The swirling rumor mill regarding Chris Paul and Dwight Howard have completely destabilized the entire NBA, from the Lakers to the Clippers, the Rockets to the Knicks and everyone in between. Add in a new set of rules coming from the freshly negotiated CBA, the balance of power in the league will tip, but in what way, I don’t think that anyone really knows.
One of the most hotly debated questions is Dwight Howard’s future (David Stern and the league’s involvement with the Hornets and thus Chris Paul turns that situation into a Tim Wakefield special – unwieldy, unpredictable and fat. Maybe not that last part. But damn, Tim Wakefield has a belly), specifically where he’ll end up. Two of the dispersed rumors would be a deal that either ends with Dwight on the New Jersey-turned-Brooklyn Nets or the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets package would be headlined by 7’ center Brook Lopez, accompanied with two draft picks (including Golden State’s 2012 first rounder, as well as the Nets own 2012 pick) and the cap space to take up Hedo Turkoglu’s remaining $30+ million dollar deal. The Lakers’ offer would presumably be fellow 7’ center Andrew Bynum, two draft picks (Dallas’ 2012 first rounder and the Lakers 2012 first rounder) as well as a $8.9 million dollar trade exception to pick up the remainder of Hedo Turkoglu’s contract.
So what would you do, given that there seems to be no better options out there?
From my buddy El Miz, I got the following e-mail:
First of all, I think its crazy how overrated you guys (and the Buss family) value Bynum. When I think of Bynum, as at least a somewhat non-partial NBA fan, I see a completely immature 7 footer who has played a full NBA season ONE TIME in his 6 year NBA career. Brook Lopez has played 82 games all 3 years of his NBA career. He is 3 for 3 on playing a full NBA season, compared to Bynum being 1 for 6. Lopez is clearly the better offensive player, they are comparable offensive rebounders, and both are adept shot blockers. Also, Lopez is actually YOUNGER than Bynum is!
I don't see how the Magic look at the trade offer which is Bynum, 2 picks and the trade exception for Howard and Hedo and then a trade offer which is Lopez, other picks, and also for Howard and Hedo. I don’t think either is a superior proposition, and if I HAD to pick one as the GM of the magic...I’m taking Lopez! Not even in the same ballpark as an injury risk, more mature player, and a better offensive game. Does Bynum have more upside? Yea, but the guy's a moron.
In some regards, I agree with El Miz here. Andrew is a child; he's 24 going on 13. I’ve been to a bunch of Lakers games in person and I think the best thing about actually going to the games is watching how guy react in the huddle (which you don't see on TV). At a majority of them, I see a detached Bynum, removed from everything. It doesn't look like he's got a rapport with his teammates, his joking is never reciprocated when he’s talking to guys like Luke or Pau and he's constantly just staring blankly. The intensity and focus isn't there. Of course there are the even more apparent issues, such as his missing the first two months of the season after putting off summer knee surgery to attend the World Cup, as well as his repeated dirty play on the court including going Ultimate Warrior on a 5’10” JJ Barea in the playoffs last year.
Then there are the positives: I've watched almost every single game that Bynum has played, and a great deal of Lopez's season last year with the Nyets being that I live in NYC and get the YES Network. I can and will say that Lopez is a fine player, but I don't agree that he's better than Bynum in any regard, except for having the genetics and good luck of staying healthy. As a whole, Bynum is a more athletic, mobile player than Lopez. Offensively, Drew has a face up 10 foot jumper, 5 moves back to the basket and is longer and more physical than Brook. He is a more efficient shot blocker and in regards to rebounding, there is no argument; Brook averaged a lethargic 5.9 rebounds per game in over 36 minutes. Comparing rebounding rates, Bynum was sixth, while Lopez was FIFTY-SEVENTH among center.
But let’s not just leave this to hearsay and impressions. Here are some Numbers.
Brook Lopez -- 7', 265 lbs. 23 yrs old (4/1/1988)
NBA career: 3 years (played 82 games in EACH season)
2010-2011 Season: 20 points, 6 rebounds (2.4 offensive), 1.5 blocks, 35 mpg
Career Averages: 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, (3 offensive), 2 blocks, 34 mpg
Andrew Bynum -- 7', 285 lbs. 24 yrs old (10/27/87)
NBA career: 6 years (averages 55 games per season; one full season healthy)
2010-2011 Season: 11 points, 9 rebounds (3 offensive), 2 blocks (28 mpg)
Career Averages: 11 points, 7 rebounds (2 offensive), 1.5 blocks (24 mpg)
All things considered, the raw numbers favor Brook. But, lest we all forget that Andrew has been playing as the FOURTH offensive option on the Lakers for much of his career. Brook has been the 2nd or 1st option for his three NBA seasons, not to mention has had to compete for rebounds with guys like Kris Humphries, rookie Derrick Favors and Yi Jianlian. Bynum, on the other hand has been starting next to Lamar Odom (averaging over 9 boards a game for his Lakers career) and Pau Gasol, and still managed to gobble up more boards and blocks than his Nets counterpart. In a league where a defensive and rebounding savant like Tyson Chandler is getting $56 million dollars while averaging a mere 8.3 points per contest, there has to be a premium placed on the fact that Andrew is superior to Brook Lopez in every facet of defense.
(True story: Last year I watched a Nets game against Orlando where Lopez had TWO rebounds. Not twenty-two. Just two. In 35 minutes. This was during a streak where he grabbed 4, 5, 2 AND ZERO boards in an average of 33 minutes a game. There is no scenario where that should happen to your 7’ center unless he’s playing alongside Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley and Bill Russel. All at their primes. At the same time)
Now onto the injuries; while there’s no denying that Andrew’s has an extensive medical report, many of them have been freak contact injuries (his two major surgeries were from incidental contact from Kobe and Lamar, and last season’s hyper-extended knee was from stepping on DeJuan Blair’s foot). I would be much more alarmed if these injuries were similar to Greg Oden’s, where the guy has broken knee caps from merely taking a hard turn on a pivot or running on a clear path to the hoop. I’m not excusing Bynum or suggesting genetics have no part in his injuries, but I am saying that perhaps a lot of it is just bad luck. That all being said, the Magic would have to be extremely wary of a guy who, as El Miz has mentioned, has missed an average of 27 games per year.
The bottom line? I think that Andrew’s value offsets the value of two higher picks that the Nets have to offer in a trade. Given more playing time and offensive focus, I truly believe that Bynum would be the 2nd best center in the league, and probably the best offensive center in the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were made the first or second option on any team, Andrew could be an annual all-star and a genuine 25/13 guy. Could you say any of those things about Brook Lopez who has already been the 1st or 2nd option on his own team? I don't even think this is much of a question; Bynum is clearly the superior player headlining a superior deal. Even taking into account injury history and immaturity, you've got to take a gamble on the player with the MUCH higher upside.