Lakers may bench Andrew Bynum

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bynum.jpgIf there has been one chink in the Lakers armor this year, it has been bench play — what last year was an intimidating bench mob is this year an unimpressive bench sewing circle.

One potential fix — starting Lamar Odom and bringing Andrew Bynum off the bench.

“My coaches are kind of pushing me in that direction, but I’m not ready yet to do that,” (Lakers coach Phil) Jackson said. “We won last year with Andrew when he came back at the end of the season, going out there and playing the first quarter and starting the games. Even though he wasn’t 100 percent when came back off his injury last year, he still gave us a lot; he gives us a big front. So I have to measure that and see what’s going to happen with this team in the next couple weeks.”

This is a shot across Bynum’s bow, a warning. It’s an acknowledgement that Bynum and Pau Gasol have yet to really play well together. Bynum’s confidence game-to-game is based around early offensive success — if he gets early touches and a few hoops his defense and rebounding improve. But when Gasol is in and he gets those touches, Bynum goes into a shell and is not the same player, he turns into Eric Dampier.

Meanwhile, Lamar Odom and Gasol mesh beautifully, as evidenced by the last two wins without Bynum and Kobe Bryant. Bynum and Kobe can be the big culprits in why the Lakers offense “sticks,” why the ball movement stops. Bynum can be a black hole — the ball goes in and does not come out. He is not an accomplished passer. Odom may be maddeningly inconsistent, but having two good passing big men makes the triangle offense hum.

Lakers fans have a love/hate relationship with Bynum that clearly the coaches do as well. No doubt the Lakers need him to win a title — they will need his size against Denver, they will need his defense against Dwight Howard or Shaq if they make the finals. He is a matchup nightmare.

But can he bring those things from the bench? Objectively, yes. Because he would be the first guy off the bench doesn’t mean he can’t finish games if he is playing well (and the matchups are right). But Bynum is a young player still in the “I need to get mine” mentality — hence the need for early touches to be effective.

How would he ego handle coming off the bench? It may well be what’s best for the team on paper, but if it causes Bynum to go into his shell every game then it is no good. Phil would like Bynum to realize what is best for the team, and make the offer (like Luke Walton did last season when he told Jackson to start Trevor Ariza ahead of him). But Bynum probably is not mature enough for that. The Lakers need the good Bynum for the playoffs, and starting him may be the sacrifice to make sure that Bynum shows up.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.

Report: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges to compete in dunk contest

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Want to see more dunks like this and this?

Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.

But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.

The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.

Bulls’ Wendell Carter reportedly out 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery

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Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.

And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.

That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.

This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.

The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season.  Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis: ‘We will never, ever tank’

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Before the season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stated his goals: 50 wins and the conference finals.

Washington is 19-26 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

Time to shift priorities?

NBC Sports Washington:

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards are too talented to tank right now. Led by Bradley Beal, they have a roster of capable veterans. They just traded for Trevor Ariza, making that even more true.

As bad as they’ve been, the Wizards are just 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position. They will likely miss the postseason, but there’s no alternative better than trying to get there. They’re too far down the road toward winning now to simply pivot into a rebuilding.

But what about if the Wizards get eliminated from playoff contention with games left in the season? They won’t tank down the stretch to improve their draft position? What’s the point of that?

And what about future seasons? Washington will have a tough time building a satisfactory winner after signing John Wall to a super-max extension that kicks in next season. That difficult-to-move contract almost mandates the Wizards prioritize the present. A healthy Wall is good enough to ensure Washington can’t bottom out – for now.

Wall be 32 in the final year of that deal. The Wizards could be in ruins by then. Taking the option to tank off the table would be a mistake.

To be fair, I’m not totally sure Leonsis is doing that. Owners almost never admit to tanking. Most deny it.

But this goes a level beyond. This is far more forceful than Leonsis had to be, which makes me believe it’s actually his plan.

That’s fine right now. Eventually, it could make a futile situation far worse.