Oden vs. Bynum: The Future Begins Tonight

The NBA starts now -- well, later today -- and already, two major storylines will waft pass our noses like so much burning cinnamon. I'm not talking about Mo Williams era in Cleveland (they're playing Boston), or the debut of Derrick Rose (platoon, anyone?). No, the game we're all waiting on tonight is Lakers/Blazers, which features the next two great true centers in battle. Forget Kobe, we want to see the return of Andrew Bynum and, finally, Greg Oden in an NBA setting. ↵
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↵Of course, neither of these is a sure thing, which makes the intrigue even thicker. It could turn this into a total bust, in the event that either Oden or Bynum just sucks. But that's also why it's must-watch basketball. Were this simply the seven-footers of the future squaring off against each other, we'd be stoked; at the risk of blowing your mind, this game's going to operate on several levels, each man playing against the other, himself, and our expectations of him. ↵
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↵It sounds strange to say it about a top pick, but Oden is the wild card. He's coming off a procedure that usually takes a full year to recover from, and was expected to have some trouble adjusting to the NBA game -- or at least figuring out some semblance of an offensive game. And yet with the Blazers as deep as they are, with smooth-scoring LaMarcus Aldridge freed up and working from the PF position, all Oden needs to do is hold down the paint, intimidate, and use his head. Does that mean a subtle performance, or can we reasonably expect a double-double with a few forceful rejections? ↵
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↵Bynum's played in the NBA before, and early last season, he looked well on his way to stardom. Then came knee problems, less extreme than Oden's but still enough to keep him out through the playoffs. The buzz continued, right up to the point that some expected the Lakers to give him a max deal this fall, avoiding the semi-competitive bidding of restricted free agency. They didn't. Bynum didn't mesh effortlessly with Odom and Gasol; the dream frontcourt disappeared, and LO was driven to the bench. His comeback has come at a price to a team that made the Finals. ↵
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↵Tonight, we'll watch to see if Bynum's really that good, or if our collective memory deceived us. And if the Lakers really look better with him starting than with Odom/Gasol. And if the front office will regret not having locked up the center when they had the chance. ↵
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↵These two aren't just the league's next great centers. There's a good chance that, with the likes of Dwight Howard making waves, they could be its last two traditional centers. That referendum begins tonight.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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