- Steve Mason, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Hey Los Angeles. Stop picking on Andrew Bynum.
And, it's not just because he scored 27 points on 12-of-14 from the field with 12 rebounds against the Pacers in the Lakers 118-96 win at Conseco Fieldhouse Wednesday night.
Bynum, regardless of the fanciful flights of imagination by Peter Vecsey of the New York Post (which have led to, first bloggers and then rank-and-file Lakers fans) suggest that Mitch Kupchak can and should deal the 21-year-old center to Toronto for Chris Bosh, is not going anywhere.
Somehow the relatively mild-mannered 7-footer from New Jersey has become the quintessential lightning rod in the Lakers Nation. In the last couple of weeks on Lakers flagship station 710 ESPN in Los Angeles (where I work as co-host of the Mason & Ireland Show and Lakers pregame), Bynum has been blamed for everything from the jobless rate in California to the recent heavy rains in Los Angeles.
The first and most important point to make is that Bynum is just 22. What were you doing when you were that age? I was a fresh-faced college graduate in 1987 taking my lumps in the rough-and-tumble radio business. President Reagan was in the White House, George Michael had the #1 record of the year with "Faith" and the now-painfully-unfunny "Three Men & A Baby" was the #1 grossing movie. I drank too much (martinis were my drink before they got really cool), I had a mountain of credit card debt, and I really had no sense for who I was as a person or where my life was headed.
It was also the year that Andrew Bynum was born. Not all that long ago. He's a kid.
Bynum has started just 172 games (playing in a total of 256). He is averaging 10 points (shooting .566 from the field), 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. These numbers are pretty darn good when you consider that he has only had his driver's license for six years and that he only reached drinking age last year. And yes, he has had two significant knee injuries, but that does not make him officially injury prone (at least not yet).
For comparison sake, let's look at two other cases of centers who came into the league at a very young age. Jermaine O'Neal was drafted as a high schooler in 1996, and in his first four-and-a-half years, his numbers are far shy of Bynum's performance, averaging just 5.3 points, four rebounds and one block per game.
Simultaneously, he is no Moses Malone who busted onto the scene with the Utah Stars of the ABA in the 1974-75 season. The future Hall of Famer would split his first four-and-a-half seasons between four teams -- the Utah Stars and St. Louis Spirits both of the ABA and the NBA's Buffalo Braves and Houston Rockets. He was dynamic almost from the jump with four-and-a-half year per-game averages of 15.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
That puts Andrew's early days as an NBA contributor somewhere between those 2 historical tracks. He is clearly better than O'Neal at this point, but well shy of the great Moses Malone.
He is developing, and the Lakers have plenty of time. They have Kobe and Pau in their prime for the immediate future, and Andrew gives them a big man with a high ceiling who could bloom just as Bryant and the Spaniard begin their inevitable declines.
I concede that Andrew can disappear when he's not getting touches at the offensive end. He believes, somewhere in his 22 year-old brain, that scoring points equals a good game. And, I'm sure it is frustrating to know that if he played for a run-of-the-mill NBA squad, he would probably be a walking double-double. Just look at Trevor Ariza who migrated to the less talented Houston Rockets and has emerged as an immediate scoring force at 15 points per game. That could have never happened for Trevor if he had stayed in Purple & Gold.
The idea of Chris Bosh is pretty cool. I get it. He's a star. But, would he be happy as the 3rd option. Would he really want to "eat" after Kobe and Pau? Who is to say that Bosh would play any better alongside Gasol than Bynum does?
Plus the luxury cap threshold is coming down to something in the $50 million-$53 million range next year. With Bynum's guaranteed $13.8 million, the Lakers already have at least $83.9 million on the books. That means that Dr. Jerry Buss will pay between $31 to $34 million in tax for 2010-2011.
If they were to trade for Bosh, he would demand a max contract to stay, which would drive Dr. Buss' luxury tax higher. In fact, every dollar paid to Bosh above Bynum's $13.8 million would be taxed at 100 percent. In short, acquiring Bosh would be a budget-buster.
So stop your desperate phone calls to Lakers Line. Andrew Bynum is not going anywhere. Take a step back and recognize that the Lakers have the incredible opportunity to both win now and develop a foundation for the future. I predict that a day will come when we all, Bynum fans and Bynum detractors, will agree that keeping this kid from Jersey is the smartest non-move that Mitch Kupchak ever made.
It's time for Laker fans to stop worrying