What A Dwight Howard Trade Could Mean For Andrew Bynum

Dwight Howard is finally coming around. He’s seen the light, forgotten his old beefs and now appears willing to listen. Reports are indicating the best center in the world is no longer against going to the team that owns the best center prestige in the league. Howard would be prepared to sign a long-term extension with the Lakers if he is ultimately traded there, according to ESPN and RealGM.com. He’d be living in a shadow of expectations, yes, but the 26-year-old center would be the foundation for the rest of L.A. to lean on. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash aren’t winning anymore championships. Unless they have help. Combined, they’ve played 43 seasons in the NBA, and the trio have all fallen from the edge of their primes. They need Howard as much as he needs them.

Of course, any deal for Howard would need to be better than Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks, a couple of first rounders and cap relief, which is what the Nets offered before backing out of the running last week. Still…

The Lakers would have a shot at a title with Howard, Bryant, Gasol and Nash anchoring an aging lineup. Andrew Bynum, the man who would undoubtedly be part of a deal for Howard – whether straight up or as a key piece of a three-team trade – would have no such chance. Yet it wouldn’t be so bad for him, either.

Currently, the Cavs have moved ahead of Houston as the third team most likely to partake in a Howard deal, and they have a number of assets Orlando is interested in. The Magic don’t necessarily want star-level talent in return for the best player they’ve had since Shaq. They want high picks and young prospects.

Cleveland has Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and draft picks available to deal. The Rockets are better suited to engage Orlando in talks, but if Omer Asik is signed ($25 million offer sheet), as many speculate he will be, that’ll almost certainly knock Houston out of the sweepstakes as well.

For a minute, let’s be speculative and jump to some conclusions. IF a deal goes down between Orlando/Los Angeles/Cleveland, Bynum will probably end up with the Cavs, where no one is quite sure whether he’d buy in long term. I’ve heard both sides. But if Bynum is serious about becoming the best center in the league, as well as expanding his offensive game, he needs to go to Cleveland. Not only would he have all of that, but the 24-year-old would have the chance he would never get in L.A. as the focal point of a playoff contender.

Kyrie Irving is the leader and future there, and before Kobe sent his hit m… um, I mean before Irving fractured his right hand this summer, he looked like an equal to Team USA’s contingent of small guards. But as the team’s only inside threat, Bynum could have a buffet rolled out in front of him every night. The big man averaged 13.3 shots a game in L.A. last year, dwarfing his shooting numbers from his first six seasons. In Cleveland, he could add four or five looks to that average. His efficiency would go down as it does for virtually every player who moves into a larger role. But with a true shooting percentage of nearly 60 percent last season, Bynum could withstand a slight drop.

In 35 minutes a game last year, Bynum finally stepped out from under Gasol’s shadow and averaged 18.7 points, earning himself a spot in the All-Star Game, and finally making good on the promise he’s shown so often in an injury-riddled career. Health aside, with the Cavs, 19 points a night would be his basement.

Cleveland no longer has LeBron James, but they have Irving, Dion Waiters and a coach (Byron Scott) who appears committed to the future. A combo of Bynum and Irving would be devastating, and I think Bynum would embrace the former Dukie. He spent years as the whipping dog in L.A., forced to scavenge for the leftovers from veterans like Bryant, Gasol and Lamar Odom, and even when he did that right, Phil Jackson would find some way to needle the kid. With the Cavs, he’d instantly become one of the most accomplished people in the organization, and the shackles that Kobe began to help loosen this season would come all the way off. With the 20-year-old Irving, they could grow together.

If Howard and Bynum are both traded this summer, Howard could go to L.A. where he’ll contend for titles and probably fight with Kobe over shots (at least he’ll have Steve Nash there to throw him eight lobs a game). Bynum could start over again in Cleveland with a young point guard, a fresh start and all the touches he ever wanted.

Howard is the better player, but if traded, Bynum’s numbers could potentially help him present an argument that he is the best big man in the league. Playing in a star-studded system in L.A. with one of the most shot-hungry players of all time, Bynum might never get that chance.

The Lakers want Howard. They should. He’s an unreal athlete and is incredibly consistent. Before his current back injury, he had missed all of seven games in seven seasons. He’ll instantly make them nastier defensively, and is probably a better fit on offense as a pick-n-roll finisher with Nash and Bryant.

Cleveland wants Andrew Bynum. But not as much as he should want them.

Would Bynum in Cleveland make them a playoff team?

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