New Carmelo Anthony Lakers trade rumors have rightly set the internet abuzz. The rumors represent the intersection of two closely followed storylines -- the Lakers' vaguely but persistently reported desire to "make a trade," and the never ending saga of Carmelo Anthony. But perhaps lost in the larger narrative is the fate of Lakers' center Andrew Bynum.
In many ways, that's been a recurring theme in Bynum's career. Being a talented player in Los Angeles guarantees media oversaturation. To solely comment on Bynum's fame given his arguably disproportional impact, however, is to overlook his history and relationship with the Lakers.
If it feels like Bynum has, for five years, been perpetually "almost there," it's a sentiment well-rooted in reality. That's not to say Bynum has not improved; he has, by leaps and bounds. As an 18-year-old, he didn't see the floor often and struggled when he did. As a 19-year-old, he started more than 50 games, scored well and rebounded well. As a 20-year-old, he ranked among the league's top centers until that fateful moment in Memphis (take 1). When healthy, he's held that strong level of play since. Bynum's rapid acceleration was never the issue. Rather, his acceleration is and always was aimed at a forever moving target.
When Kobe Bryant delivered his infamous tirade in 2007, what was the desired goal for Bynum? When the Timberwolves in 2007 and the Raptors in 2010 discussed sending their respective superstars to Los Angeles, what was Bynum's new theoretical ceiling? There's a faction of sports writers, analysts and fans who won't be satisfied until Andrew Bynum goes for 20-10 nightly, like the stars the Lakers' brass rejected in order to keep Bynum.
As long as Bynum is a member of this Lakers team, that simply will not happen. That's not an indictment of his skills or ability; it's a testament to how strong the Lakers are. As much as perception of the NBA is star-driven, franchises don't win titles without impeccable team construction. The Lakers' ability to rotate height for height is one of their most crucial strengths. Put simply? Bynum (and not "theoretical future Bynum") fits. Bynum's current value to the Lakers is firmly rooted in that fact and outstrips the theoretical value he'd provide by coming closer to his ceiling ... whatever that is these days.
I was reminded yesterday of something Kurt Helin -- now the editor of NBC's Pro Basketball Talk, then the editor of Forum Blue and Gold -- told me four years ago. At the time, Bynum was halfway into an All-Star caliber season. I was curious to know who Helin would pick as Bynum's closest historical comp. After all, here was a player vacuuming the glass, scoring with ridiculous efficiency (127 points per 100 possessions!), and developing as a shot-blocking defensive presence ... and he'd just turned 20.
Helin, to my surprise, picked Brad Daugherty. I'll admit I snickered a little bit. Daugherty joined the league at age 21; at 20, Bynum was doing things Daugherty wouldn't come close to approaching for some five, six seasons. If Bynum topped out as a modern day Brad Daugherty, I thought, things will have gone horribly awry.
If someone wants to argue Bynum for 'Melo from purely a health standpoint, I'll get out of the way. If we're talking talent and team construction? Bynum has been exactly who Helin predicted, and that's perfectly fine.