L.A. Lakers: Why L.A. Must Trade Andrew Bynum Before Next Season

Howard RubenContributor IMay 11, 2012

DENVER, CO - MAY 10:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks off the court during halftime against the Denver Nuggets in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on May 10, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. 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.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

A picture tells a thousand words.  At a time when he should be leading, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is as disengaged from his team as a shuttle booster rocket falling towards the ocean.

Tuesday's loss at home to Denver was bad enough, with Bynum acknowledging that the team didn't get into the game until there were five minutes left and they were down by 15 (actually, it was Kobe Bryant by himself who brought the Lakers back to within a whisper of victory—Bynum came along for the ride).

But Thursday night's disaster in Denver was much worse, a 113-96 blowout in which a severely ill Kobe Bryant played with the heart of a lion, scoring 31 points in 37 minutes on 14-23 shooting, while the rest of the team played as if they were the ones throwing up in their hotel rooms before the game.  Talk about sick.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the last two games, but I put Andrew Bynum at the top because the expectations for him are the highest.  The first-time All-Star has, at times, looked like the number one center in the NBA, scoring at will with a variety of moves around the basket that show off his improved footwork and soft touch.

But, then, inexplicably, there are games like the one last night in Denver.  To be honest, it wasn't so much that Bynum had another awful performance on the court, scoring 11 points (eight below his average) on 4-11 shooting.  He shot an air ball three feet from the basket and had another shot blocked, first by Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov and then guard Ty Lawson—yes, that Ty Lawson.

No, it was the uninspired, off-in-another universe look that Bynum displayed throughout the contest, most notably sitting alone on the bench during timeouts, away from the team's huddle, an emotional chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon.  This is your next great Lakers Leader?

I don't think so. 

The question you must ask yourself is: just how much do you continue to support such a major talent when that player doesn't seem to have the passion for the game that's needed from the next face of the franchise?

Is it a leader who proclaims that "closeout games are kind of easy" or doesn't seem to care that his team is imploding.  His pat answer has become: "we'll look at the film and figure out how to do better".

Win or lose - and I honestly think this team will lose in Game 7 to Denver or get crushed in the next round by the Thunder—the Lakers have a 24 year old All Star center who might draw a lot of interest if they shop him around this summer. 

Earlier this year, Magic Johnson said it was time to "blow up" the team and start over.  I think you can start by trading Bynum, which should bring L.A. some much needed, young, energetic firepower that they can build around.

As Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times wrote Friday:  

"The Lakers for now have publicly maintained patience with his maturation process.  But Bynum is truly giving them reason to question whether they should extend the team option on him next season."

When asked by ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin if his teammates, especially Bynum and Gasol, had played with the necessary heart and intensity in Game 6, a dehydrated, exhausted Bryant was emphatic:

"No. Of course they didn't.

"It's one of those things where psychologically you have to put yourself in a predicament, in a position where you have no other option but to perform.  You have to emotionally put yourself with your back against the wall and kind of trick yourself, so to speak, to feel that there's no other option but to perform and to battle.  When you have that, when you put yourself in that mind state, then your performance shines through.  Your talent shines through and it doesn't matter what the defense does, it doesn't matter if you get fouled.  It doesn't matter because you're emotionally at a level that's above that.  That's the mind state that they have to put themselves in."

DENVER, CO - MAY 04:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers is restrained by teammates Kobe Bryant #24 and Matt Barnes #9 as Bynum protests a call with the referesss as they face the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinal
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Should the Lakers lose this series or get squashed by the Thunder, there will be plenty of blame to go around.  Mike Brown has been out-coached by George Karl, and Pau Gasol once again seems lost in this out-of-sync, hurry-up-and-shoot, no-scheme offense.

Yet it's Bynum, the heir-apparent to Kobe, who should be most singled out and who has the highest trade value. 

I truly hope he proves me wrong with an inspiring 30 point, 20 rebound, five block performance in a big win on Saturday.

But that may just be more wishful thinking for a player who really doesn't seem to relish the role of Lakers leader.