Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks

Lakers top Mavs: It’s time to celebrate the arrival of Andrew Bynum


The Lakers and Mavericks did not play a terrific game Saturday night. Neither team shot better than 45 percent from the field, both were turnover-prone, neither could really get into their offensive flow, and both missed plenty of easy, open shots in spot-up situations. Kobe Bryant tried to do too much, again, this time on a bad ankle, and the Lakers very nearly coughed up a lead which should have been considerably more comfortable for most of the second half considering the slap-happy way the Mavericks were rushing things offensively.

But win they did, thanks to Steve Blake coming in and nailing huge crucial threes, some key plays from Ron Artest (remember him?), Pau Gasol doing damage in the post, and some excellent defensive work, particularly on the Mavericks at the rim.

This game can be used as a seminal moment for the Lakers, snapping back from a disappointing loss in Miami, proving that they still have the Mavs’ number after some regular season struggles, and showing they are still on track to reach the Finals. It can be used to illustrate that although Dallas is talented and experienced, and blessed with tremendous depth down low, it may not be enough thanks to the talent gap in the paint.

But really, if you want to know what this game meant? It’s “the moment” for Andrew Bynum. There have been flashes along the way. Signs. Huge games, bigger than this one. Moments where Bynum was the difference maker, the extra piece, the X-factor, other cliches. This wasn’t the biggest game of Bynum’s career, far from it. But the other games for him were proof of what he could do, what he was capable of, what was possible with him.

His performance against the Mavericks was a statement of what he is doing, where he is at, how he is playing.

In short, Bynum has finally, fully, arrived.

Bynum has always had the ability and the hype that goes with it. In 2008, a colleague I respect at the utmost levels stated that Bynum was already the 24th best player in the league. I scoffed and mocked him, not out of denial of what Bynum was capable of, but out of a question of whether he would ever really reach that level of production, consistency and performance. What Tom Ziller saw three years ago is what Bynum is doing now, dominating the landscape on a championship squad and making it to where the Lakers not only win, but win with relative comfort even on nights where Bryant is struggling, a scenario that would have seemed impossible two years ago. Three years ago I wanted to see the proof in the pudding. This season Bynum has served it with crow-flavored custard on top.

The reason for Bynum’s ascension? Simple.  Health. Bynum has suffered through multiple knee injuries each season, even limping through the 2010 Finals with a small tear. The biggest criticism of Bynum has been his work ethic in regards to those knee injuries. Bynum has always missed benchmarks, return deadlines, and suffered recurrences of injuries. He never rushes back to work and instead constantly gives vague and delayed timelines for his return. But once on the floor, he’s a monster.

Bynum’s numbers aren’t out of this world. They’re the stuff that you’d expect from a top ten center, but what’s most notable is that he’s splitting minutes with Gasol and Lamar Odom as part of the longest and most talented team in the league. His offensive production rarely is featured as the center point for the Lakers with Gasol and Bryant circling the triangle. But he’s hyper efficient, posting the best PER of his career since the 2007-2008 season. And with Bryant struggling with age and injury, and the rest of the Lakers in regular season cruise control, Bynum has become something the Lakers can turn to for production and trust in. Quite simply, he’s just bigger than everyone else. More than once per game, Bynum will bail out a teammate’s bad shot by crashing the offensive glass for a vicious putback or tip-in with his freakishly long arms. There’s nothing you can do to guard Bynum. He’s not savvy like Al Horford or relentless like Joakim Noah or even freakishly athletic like Dwight Howard. He’s just bigger and longer than everyone else, and that is honestly the greatest strength of the Lakers at this point. They can simply bat shots back in by playing volleyball on the offensive glass well over the outstretched arms of those trying to box them out.

Bynum’s not the franchise center. Not yet, far from it. But he’s reached the point where he’s playing consistently, able to put in reliable minutes, giving the consistent effort necessary for Phil Jackson to instill more trust in him, and making life a nightmare for opponents. On a night where the Mavericks did a favorable job on both Bryant and Gasol (a combined 12-34 from the field), it still wasn’t enough. Because Bynum was there to be one step faster, a few inches bigger, a little bit better than the depth Dallas has brought in to contend with the champs. 22 points, 15 rebounds, and the thanks of a grateful championship contender.

It took longer than it should have, but finally the real new Western beast down low has arrived.

It’s Andrew Bynum, and he’s no longer a championship afterthought.

51 Questions: Which team will win the East? Make playoffs?

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, workers finish hanging a mural of Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James on a building in Cleveland. The colossal LeBron James banner is getting a small _ but significant _ upgrade.
The iconic, 10-stories-tall mural is being removed this week and replaced with a new one that includes a gold patch of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the back of James’ uniform to represent the Cavaliers winning the NBA title last season to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.
The new banner is expected to be installed by Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
Associated Press
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It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pacers
5. Pistons
6. Wizards
7. Hornets
8. Bulls

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

On the one hand, the East is not that interesting: It’s Cleveland then everyone else. The only question is do they have enough of a championship hangover that Boston or Toronto can catch them in the regular season? That question will be moot in the playoffs, Cleveland is in its own class out East. However, what is interesting is that spots 4 through 12 could go almost any direction — I have the Hawks, Knicks, Bucks, and Magic out of the playoffs, but any of them could make it if their season comes together (the Hawks, in particular, are hard to leave out, but I believe they downgraded at point and center). I’m higher on the Pacers than most, but I wonder about their defense. I think teams 4-12 will all win between 36-46 games, it’s going to be a tight bunch with health and other small factors deciding who is in and who is out.

Dan Feldman

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pistons
5. Wizards
6. Hawks
7. Hornets
8. Pacers

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

Cleveland is in the top tier on its own, though it’s quite conceivable someone else passes them in the regular season. Boston and Toronto occupy the next group. Then it’s everyone else — including maybe the Bulls, Bucks and maybe even Magic. The difference between homecourt advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely is slim, especially with Reggie Jackson‘s injury destroying my confidence in Detroit as the No. 4 seed.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Hornets
5. Bulls
6. Pistons
7. Wizards
8. Hawks

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

The real question in the East isn’t about the Cavaliers, but about the two teams projected to finish below them in the Celtics and Raptors. Yes, Toronto has more experience, and they should have a healthy DeMarre Carroll, but losing Bismack Biyombo is big, especially so as Boston added Al Horford. Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star, Brad Stevens looks like a great coach, and I think the Celtics take the No. 2 in the regular season. Then again, I’m also taking the Raptors experience in the playoffs, so maybe I’m hedging.

Report: Timberwolves ask Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, who could be available in trade

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves are looking to trade a point guard or two.

The Cavaliers are looking to trade for a point guard or two.

Could it be a match?

Shumpert seems like Cleveland’s most likely trade bait, and Minnesota – dangling Tyus Jones and maybe soon Ricky Rubio – is apparently interested.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert. Several teams, including Minnesota, have inquired about his availability in the past few weeks and gotten the impression Cleveland is ready to talk, according to several league sources. The Cavs won’t salary-dump Shump for nothing, but given their tax situation, cutting payroll by a few million promises exponential savings.

Shumpert is more valuable than Jones, less valuable than Rubio. Draft picks and/or other players can bridge the gap in any deal, but neither point guard makes much sense in Cleveland. Rubio is too good to back up Kyrie Irving. Jones is not proven enough to be significantly more dependable than Kay Felder.

What could make a lot of sense: A team trades for Rubio, displacing its current point guard, who goes to the Cavs in a three-way trade. With the Kings a known Rubio suitor, Darren Collison could fit in Cleveland – at least after his eight-game suspension. Similar iterations could work with other teams that have a decent point guard but want to upgrade to Rubio.

Report: Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian engaged, getting their own reality show

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16:  TV personality Khloe Kardashian attends the NBCUniversal 2016 Upfront Presentation on May 16, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Tristan Thompson is doing his best to ensure the Cavaliers live up to Joakim Noah‘s “Hollywood as hell” billing.

Just as they begin a high-profile title defense behind stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Thompson is bringing even more attention to Cleveland by taking his relationship with Khloe Kardashian to the next level.

Katherine Santana of In Touch:

Now that Khloé Kardashian and Tristan Thompson are engaged, In Touch can exclusively reveal details on the couple’s wedding. Khloé and Tristan are now in the works of getting their own reality show, and are planning to marry in front of the cameras!

Thompson and Kardashian are adults and should be free to live their personal lives as they see fit under the law. I just hope Thompson understands what he’s getting himself into.

Report: Lakers want to keep Metta World Peace… as assistant coach

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers sits for an interview during Los Angeles Laker media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
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The Lakers must drop two players before the regular season. The four five primary candidates:

  • Nick Young, the only one of the four with a guaranteed salary. There was talk of waiving him anyway, but he has seemingly played his way onto the team in the preseason.
  • Yi Jianlian, who has the highest salary of the group. His partially guaranteed, incentive-laden contract makes him an intriguing trade chip.
  • Thomas Robinson, the youngest of the bunch. The 25-year-old might be the best center in a few years of anyone on the Lakers’ roster.
  • Anthony Brown, the No. 34 pick just last year. He has a guaranteed salary.
  • Metta World Peace, the oldest player on the team. He turns 37 next month and hasn’t been productive in years.

The Lakers face one tough choice. Waiving World Peace should be the easy one – and it seems they know it.

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.

If the Lakers want to keep World Peace to mentor young players, assistant coach is the right role for him. It’s not worth wasting a roster spot on someone who’s no longer NBA caliber.

World Peace wants to keep playing, and he could lobby other teams. I’d be surprised if he gets another NBA contract, but I was also surprised the Lakers signed him the last two years.

More likely, World Peace must decide between being a Lakers assistant and playing overseas again.