WIth the recent report that the Lakers and Nuggets have entered preliminary discussions over a blockbuster deal involving Andrew Bynum and Carmelo Anthony, the question is not whether Buss, Kupchak & Co. will pull the trigger (they have a flair for the dramatic), but whether the Lakers organization should make the deal.
The Lakers should not trade Bynum unless they get an above average big man in return. Thus, a Melo-for-Bynum “straight up” scenario does not suffice. Let me explain…
Aside from Kobe Bryant, the thing that makes the LA Lakers so special and so dangerous is their unique blend of size and talent in the paint. Nobody in the NBA can match the combined length and skills of Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. When healthy, Bynum has shown his ability to dominate down low on both the offensive and defensive ends. Gasol is arguably the most skilled big man in the league. And Odom’s versatility gives the Lakers a luxury that no other team can even imagine. But if you deal Bynum, you cut that front court trio by one third and instantly become just another team in the paint. You lose the sole advantage that you had over every other team in the game; the same advantage that led to back-to-back championships.
Don’t get me wrong, Melo is a great player. Without hesitating, I would rank him in the top fifteen players in the game right now. And then if I thought harder, I’d move him into the top ten. But combining Melo, Kobe, and Pau looks a lot to me like the Miami Heat combining LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh. In fact, I even think that the potential Lakers trio would be worse than the Heat threesome.
For one, Pau is virtually the same player as Bosh. They are both true power forwards that play softer than you would like. So far in their careers, Pau and Bosh have very comparable numbers–Pau has averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, whereas Bosh has averaged 20 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Defensively, neither poses a huge shot-blocking presence, and neither is considered a defensive stalwart. Both have silky smooth jumpers and are best when they face up their opponents in the post.
Second, I would take Wade/James on a team way before I would take Kobe/Melo for the simple fact that, of the four players, LeBron is the only one who can truly adapt his game to another superstar and commit to being a facilitator/playmaker rather than a scorer. Just by looking at his averages this season, you can tell he has focused on affecting games in ways other than scoring (he currently averages over 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game, while his scoring his down about 3 points per game from last season). But I doubt that Kobe or Melo is capable of such an adjustment; both of those guys are scorers at heart.
Finally, what have critics of the Miami Heat contended all season long? Furthermore, what teams have given the Miami Heat trouble so far this year? Teams with size! Think Celtics, Magic, Mavericks, Bulls, etc. Those teams utilized their advantage in the paint to pound the undersized Heat. Well, if the Lakers deal Bynum and leave themselves with a front line of Pau, Odom, Theo Ratliff, and Joe Smith, don’t you think those other teams will attack LA in the same way? I certainly would.
Amidst the Lakers struggles this season, a lot of fans have remained calm and chosen to focus on the big picture. I have heard many people say that when all is said and done the Lakers will be in the Finals playing for a coveted three-peat against their rival Celtics. This past offseason, the Celtics, after being pummeled in the paint by the Lakers last Finals, shored up their front line by acquiring Jermaine O’Neal, Shaq, Semih Erden, and Luke Harangody. Add those bodies to Kendrick Perkins, KG, and Glen Davis, and suddenly you have seven bigs that can bruise opponents down low. The Celtics depth is a major concern for the Lakers as it stands now. Just imagine what that depth of size would do against a Bynum-less Lakers front court. It wouldn’t be pretty.
If the Lakers get rid of Bynum and do not get a big man in return, I don’t think they will win the championship this season. It’s as simple as that. I personally think they should focus their efforts elsewhere, like picking up a solid point guard or even moving Ron Artest for more athletic forwards. Only time will tell.