The 2004-2005 NBA season marked a new beginning for the Los Angeles Lakers. Gone was the Zen master Phil Jackson, being replaced by Rudy Tomjanovich (who was later replaced by Frank Hamblen). Shaquille O'Neal was sent to
, cutting the strings away from the centerpiece of the three-peat era. The Lakers missed the playoffs entirely, finished with a meager 34 wins, and were shuffled along to the NBA draft lottery where they landed the 10th overall pick for the 2005 NBA draft. It seemed like a stretch of the imagination at the time, but that 10th draft pick would change the fortune of the franchise. Miami
Straight out of high school just like his teammate Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum fell down the draft ladder board and into the lap of the Lakers who had just lost the franchise center of a generation. With the 10th overall pick, the Lakers elected to roll the dice on the big man, and Andrew Bynum became the youngest player to ever be drafted in the NBA. Since then, Bynum has had to wade through adversity as he grew into the lineage of great Laker centers. From knee injuries and back to back championships, to consecutive second round exits and a career year, the peaks and valleys of his career have been drastic. Since 2005, though, one truth remains; both the Lakers organization and their fans have been heavily invested in Andrew Bynum succeeding.
, Laker fans know what they will be getting. His brilliance has become an expectation. The gift, and curse, of having Kobe Bryant steering the Lakers' ship is a reality the Lakers have lived with for 17 years. It isn't changing until he walks away from the game, but as proven through the mid 2000's, Kobe alone isn't enough to capture a championship. However, with Andrew Bynum, there has always been the mystery of where his potential will take him and when it will come to fruition. Were the 30 rebounds against Kobe just an anomaly? How about the triple double, 10 block game against San Antonio ? Will that level of dominance translate to a common reality? Denver
Over the last five years Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant have been considered the two driving forces for the Lakers' title hopes. Andrew Bynum, meanwhile, kept trucking along in the shadows, striving to become more than an extra body to throw at Dwight as he was in the 2009 NBA finals. While the glimmers were there, in the midst of the injuries and rehabilitation time, Andrew Bynum never seemed to have the proper time to come into his own. The teenager and early twenty year old that was the fourth option behind Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom quickly became the second option while looking like he was ready to be the primary scorer for a contending team. The masses clamored for Bynum to receive more touches on the block, to be more integrated into a shaky offense that needed something beyond the perimeter dynamic that
brings to the floor on a nightly basis. Kobe
Andrew Bynum doesn’t naturally dominate the court. His movements aren't fluid, his athleticism comes and goes, and his skills are far from being refined. Love him or hate him, though, he has remained a beacon of hope for the Lakers present and future. All the years of groaning and eye rolling while his knee sidelined him may have pushed the Laker fan base away from coveting Drew, but the flashes of brilliance always brings the same insatiable fans back to his side. Finally, after persevering through the injuries and breaking through, Andrew Bynum received his first all star selection. Yet, despite this, he's never been closer to being shipped out of
. Los Angeles
Year in, year out, Bynum is at the center of trade chatter. In the media driven NBA it's nearly impossible to tune all of it out. His focus has remained on himself though, improving every year. Taking care of his health. Adding to his game. Last off season he proclaimed he would gladly be "the man" on his own team, and that was before putting up career numbers. His confidence should be at an all time high after the year he had for the Lakers, remaining healthy aside from a mild ankle sprain. There are still facets of his game that are severely lacking, mainly his offensive recognition in the low post, but the pieces are coming together. In an offense that is heavily dictated by the field goal attempts Kobe Bryant feels he has to put up to "carry" the team on his shoulders, perhaps being "the man" in
Houston or would be what's best for Bynum. Finally being given the nod of approval that Orlando has refused to give him his entire career. Los Angeles
No matter how the Dwight Howard saga plays out, the Lakers will have an all-star center to anchor their team. However, if Andrew Bynum is in fact sent out for Dwight, it will be a bitter sweet moment for the franchise. A team that has always remained relevant through free agent signings and trades, Andrew Bynum has been the rare home grown talent and he has just begun to flourish. The patience to allow his development has made him the premiere trading chip for a top echelon player in Howard, yet if the Lakers are "stuck" with Bynum they will remain championship contenders. It hasn't been an easy process, unraveling to the extent of
throwing Bynum completely under the bus in a plea to acquire Jason Kidd. Jim Buss has refused to let go of his protégé, his pet project as commonly titled, and it has been for good reason. He has the tools to become a top tier player if he isn't one already, and this is at 24. Where will he be in three years? Kobe
The Los Angeles Lakers are going to look drastically different next season, regardless. Steve Nash is a maestro with the ball in his hands who won't shrink away from managing the offense the way that Ramon Sessions did last season. Sure, Dwight Howard is a more natural fit within an offense that will feature a heavier reliance on pick and roll opportunities but let's not forget that Andrew Bynum averaged 18.7 points per game, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks while Pau Gasol was his primary creator within the offense. Andrew Bynum's ceiling has yet to be reached, and whichever team has the opportunity to have him as their franchise center will have a talented player who hasn't entered his prime. The Lakers are in no rush to send him off for a non-committal Dwight Howard, Orlando would love to swap for Bynum long term to replace Dwight, and Houston who has sought after Dwight may take on Bynum to facilitate shifting Dwight to the west coast.
Andrew Bynum is, at worst, the second best center in the NBA. No longer the "could be good someday" kid, there is no question that his time is now. While bringing on Dwight Howard would be an ideal move for the Los Angeles Lakers, it would be difficult to see Andrew Bynum in another jersey. Watching him learn how to pass out of doubles in the post for the Houston Rockets, seeing his footwork improve to reduce those travelling calls he so aptly receives for trying to tip toe around his defenders in Orlando, would always bring back memories of the breakout 2011-2012 season he had. A season that begun as a disaster, watching Drew improve so dramatically was one of the few things to cheer for. And with that as the worst case scenario going into next season, I wouldn't mind that at all.