You’ve heard the story by now. Dwight Howard is a Laker, and Andrew Bynum is not.
We’re all drooling at the prospect of having Kobe as the primary perimeter scorer, Nash as the primary distributor, Pau as the token Spaniard and Dwight Howard as the primary defensive anchor and post presence. It took two years of suffering, incredible player development and a lot of failed attempts at offseason moves.
But lost in all the jubilation that Howard is a Laker is just how much we’ll miss Andrew Bynum.
Because Andrew Bynum has been remarkable to watch, since he came into the league in 2005. In his first season, the wide-eyed kid out of high school was ready to throw down with the best big man in the game, on Christmas, no less, a sign of things to come:
That moment would be a significant one, if you think real hard about it. Back then, the Lakers were looking to move in a new direction after Shaquille O’Neal saw his tenure as the next great Lakers center end with a trade to Miami and Andrew Bynum was to carry the torch.
Bynum developed. The footwork displayed in that video would be the biggest reason for Lakers fans to feel excited he could become an incredible center for years to come.
It didn’t take long for him to progress significantly, either. In 2007, he became the Lakers’ starting center after stone-handed Kwame Brown made a complete ass of himself on offense. His first start that season, against Indiana, saw Bynum notch 17 points and ten rebounds and, as it were, he followed it up with 14 more double-doubles before his season-ending knee injury against Memphis.
Ironically, the Lakers — then 25-11 on the season and in contention for the top spot in the Western Conference — knew something had to be done to regain the hole left in the middle by Bynum, and Mitch Kupchak’s first blockbuster trade — for Pau Gasol in Memphis — kept Kobe in LA and made Lakers fans excited for the immediate future, when Andrew Bynum would get healthy and the team would field the best frontcourt in the NBA.
Bynum improved yet again, playing alongside Pau, in 2009 en route to his first NBA title. Of course, that season was injury-laden too, and because of his injuries, fans had doubts whether Bynum was really the Lakers’ future superstar that the front office had pegged him to be. He, all of a sudden, was an injury-prone guy with all the potential in the world but not enough games to back up these claims.
But Drew rebounded, resilient bastard he is, and improved in nearly every statistical category except for rebounding. His PER, at this point, was in the 20s and though Bynum saw more knee injuries, yet again, he was able to help the Lakers battle a just-as-resilient Boston Celtics team in 2010.
In 2011, Bynum was relegated to being a defensive anchor, having little to no offensive role, and did it remarkably well. In Phil Jackson’s last season, Bynum had his best defensive rating as a Laker with 100 points allowed per 100 possessions. Bynum stayed relatively injury-free, too, after returning from a lingering knee injury.
And in his last season with the L.A. Lakers, Bynum exploded as the team’s second option, averaging nearly 19 points and 12 rebounds to go along with his PER of 23, ensuring him a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team, all while dealing with the fact that Lakers fans were sorely hoping for him to do well just so he may have better leverage in a possible deal for now-Laker Dwight Howard.
Along the way, he’s had his bumps and bruises, not just on those knees, but on a personal level as well. Bynum’s maturity issues — ever present and most salient when he clothes-lined JJ Barea in the 2011 playoffs — came to the forefront under new head coach Mike Brown. While he performed at an elite level, he refused to listen to huddles, took needless threes, and refused to admit his mistakes. This was his maturation into superstardom, and acting like an entitled ass is what is expected of you when you’re playing that well. Ask Kobe Bryant.
Of course, he’s come a long way, as a basketball player. His footwork has been a joy to watch, his post move repertoire has expanded tremendously, his hook shot has become cleaner and his three-point shot has … well, it sucks, but that’s better than “non-existent,” I suppose.
Jokes aside, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we may regret trading Andrew for Dwight in two years or, hell, by the end of next season. All Lakers fans were damn sure that, if given enough touches down the stretch of games, Bynum could have transformed himself into a superstar much like the way Dwight is seen, in 2013.
As it stands now, though, Howard is a better player. The gap is significantly smaller, but there is, indeed, a gap.
We’ll miss Bynum. Lakers fans will whine and moan about his unwillingness to play every game (because not getting touches as an NBA big man while your perimeter guys are jacking awful shots shouldn’t be discouraging, I guess), but we’ll miss him.
Good luck, and we hope we’ll see another Bynum-Howard showdown in the All-Star game, even if the conferences are to be switched.