On the left side of the ring, let me introduce to you the reigning TIC (Talented Immature Center) champion… At 26 years of age, standing 6 foot 11 at 265 pounds, 3-time defensive player of the year, 6-time All Star, 5-time member of the All NBA 1st Team, the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Champion, 2009 NBA Finalist, and the UNDISPUTED BEST CENTER IN THE NBA… DE-WIGHT HOW-WAAAAARD!!!!
On the right side is his challenger… At 24 years of age, standing 7 foot tall with 285 pounds, 2-time NBA champion and 2012 NBA All Star, vying to become the best big man in the world and grab the TIC championship belt… AAAAN-DREWWW BAI-NUMMMMM!!!!
Let’s look at their respective credentials, shall we? On one hand, you have Dwight Howard, the single-most metaphorically terrifying defensive force in the post who has somehow managed to be non-terrifying in every other non-metaphoric sense of the word. Howard is the NBA’s fiercest post defender and rebounder and yet has the ambition to be the NBA’s nicest guy (fake or real) with a demeanor soft that little Nate Robinson would have no problem walking all over him. He is a player who can single-handedly carry a team of no-namers through the Eastern Conference and is the same player whose emotional whims have upset the plans of at least half a dozen NBA franchises over the past year (including his own). He is one of the NBA’s top three trade assets (along with LeBron James and Kevin Durant), is a rare commodity in a league of poor big men, and yet, is a player that even the most-admiring team GMs are scared to deal with. He is a Superman and a Coach Killer.
He is, as I said before, the most Talented Immature Center in the NBA.
And now, let’s revisit his challenger, Andrew Bynum. Once the youngest ever player in the NBA, Bynum’s injuries and slow progress kept him in the ‘potential project’ category for the first five years of his career. Lucky for him, he was part of a team good enough that didn’t need his full services to make the NBA Finals three times in that period and win two championships. Finally, he broke out last season to propel himself as the NBA’s second best Center, only behind Howard. He showed the gifts he had on the offensive end that Howard didn’t, even though he couldn’t fully match Dwight’s abilities defensively. He showed the world why the Lakers invested so much on him, and why they didn’t want to let him go. He became an All Star starter.
He also became a perennial headache. Bynum’s immaturity was a lesser-known fact only to hardcore Laker fans, at least until the famous clothesline blow to JJ Barea in the Mavericks sweep of the Lakers brought out his unpredictability to national and international fame. From then on, as Bynum’s talents have improved, so have his ability to have his foot in his mouth. As he completed his best and healthiest season in 2012, he also managed to annoy his coach by taking too many three-pointers, come unprepared to important playoff games, and say regrettable things to the media on more than one occasion.
The two Centers remain linked together, not just because of their talent and their immaturity, but also because they have been pitted in trade talks for each other for over a year. From the time Dwight Howard walked into the last year of his contract last season, the Lakers have had their eye on making him the second great big man who refers to himself as Superman that they have stolen from Orlando. And the only commodity that Orlando is willing to accept in return is the slightly less talented (and slightly less dramatic) Bynum. Over and over again, until last season’s trade deadline and this off-season’s never-ending ‘Dwightmare’, the Lakers and the Magic have been discussing Howard and Bynum.
Both of them could’ve instead been helping out their country in London at the Olympic Games, but neither of them are part of Team USA, leaving the talented squad short at the Center position. No, Howard and Bynum are spending this off-season contemplating whether or not to pack their bags and hunt for apartments in other cities.
The Lakers boosted their squad by bringing in former two-time MVP Steve Nash into the backcourt, and they now have dreams to become untouchable by adding the game-changing piece: Dwight Howard. Despite his breakout year, Bynum continues to hear his name advertised by his own team; while LA claim to be in talks to extend his contract, it will be interesting to see how much truth there is to that claim, and how much Bynum’s psyche will be affected by the trade talks even if he does return to the Lakers.
From Disneyland to Disney World: out in Orlando, a much crazier story is unfolding around the schizophrenic moods of Howard. Here is a brief recap of Dwight’s NBA relationships as they stand today:
- Orlando: After messing with his intentions to sign a long-term extension with them last season, Dwight finally extended his contract by just one year, and now, he had made it clear that he wants a trade away from the city and will not re-sign with them again.
- Brooklyn: He wanted to go there, but didn’t make his intentions for an extension clear and they didn’t have the pieces for him. So they extended Deron Williams, Kris Humpfries, and Brook Lopez instead, and brought in Joe Johnson from Atlanta.
- Houston: The Rockets aggressively cleared their roster and got all the trade assets to make a strong launch on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem interested in re-signing with them after this season, either.
- LA Lakers: If they are able to trade for him, Howard said that he would sign an extension. A day later, Howard’s agent said that he may not. So now, Howard is not saying anything.
- Dallas: They want him next season (and can afford him), and word is that he’ll extend with them if they get him (but there are no guarantees, of course). But now, no one wants to risk trading for him if he has his eyes set on the Mavericks.
We thought LeBron’s ‘Decision’ – where he played between Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, New Jersey, and New York – was awful. We thought that the long-winded ‘Melo-Drama’ between the Nuggets, the Knicks, and the Nets was annoying. Well, the ‘Dwightmare’ officially takes the cake in terms of longevity, drama, and overall annoyance. Somehow, the NBA’s best Center has managed to become its most wanted asset and its most insufferable personality. You can trust Dwight Howard to make your team into an instant contender, but can you trust Dwight Howard to stay with your team?
Like they always seem to do, the Lakers find themselves in the middle of the drama again. When a straight trade for Howard and Bynum seemed complicated, they were able to get the Cavaliers involved in a potential three-team deal that would send Howard (and bad Orlando contracts) to LA, Bynum to Cleveland, and draft picks and role players to Orlando. There is a possibility that Houston could be willing to be that ‘middle-team’ in this trade instead of Cleveland, too.
Orlando may believe that they’ll lose Howard for nothing at the end of the season anyways, but is the value that they receive in return in this deal enough to keep them happy? And what are the guarantees that Bynum will be happy in Cleveland (or Houston), even if he does have reigning rookie of the year Kyrie Irving (or reigning worldwide sensation Jeremy Lin) as his point guard?
But the most important question of them all could be the one with the most obvious answer: do the Lakers really want to replace one Talented Immature Center with an even more Talented and even more Immature Center?
The easy answer is: yes, of course. On the basketball court, Howard is an upgrade over Bynum. He will make the Lakers better defensively and will make them immediate favourites to win a championship.
The more long-winded, cynical answer is: maybe, maybe not. Do the Lakers really want to give up the player that they drafted, the player who won two championships with them (with minimal contribution), whom they fought to keep for years and who truly enjoys playing for them? For all of Bynum’s wackiness, never has he once stated his desire not to be a Laker. He’s happy where he is; Howard doesn’t seem to be happy anywhere at all. Yes, Bynum is currently second-best to Howard on the floor, but he has his own positives (better on the offensive end, younger), and perhaps it makes more sense for the Lakers to settle for the second-best big man who won’t bring up the drama that Dwight Howard would.
It’s time for the Lakers to find their saviour and their poison: which TIC do they want to build their future around? Who will Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol want to play with more? And who will ultimately help them win more championships?