Bynum vs. Howard: Is Howard's Back More of a Concern Than Bynum's Knees?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJuly 21, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 13:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic drives against Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at Amway Arena on February 13, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

All's quiet on the Western front when it comes to the ongoing saga between Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers, at least for now.

Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, recently announced that Howard still intended to explore free agency at the end of the 2012-13 season and he wouldn't be signing an extension regardless of who he was traded to.

Fegan's proclamation may have slowed down the Lakers' pursuit of Howard for the moment, or it could just be the quiet before the final storm.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak probably feels Howard could be convinced to stay in Los Angeles after soaking up the Hollywood environment for a season and playing the pick-and-roll offense with Steve Nash.

Or the Lakers could take a different approach and show some faith in Andrew Bynum, since he is younger than Howard, more skilled and Bynum is not the one facing a comeback from major surgery.

Bynum's shaky knees have garnered plenty of attention throughout his career, but in his first healthy season, albeit a short one, Bynum posted career-high numbers in nearly every important statistical category.

Most people would still consider Bynum a close second to Howard, but that may depend on how well Howard responds to surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.

Maybe there needs to be a little more discussion about Howard's back, since the injury potentially affects the portion of Howard's game that makes him special.

The one edge Howard holds over Bynum and every other NBA player except LeBron James is ridiculous athleticism, but back injuries tend to rob a player of lateral mobility, lift and strength.

Just ask Tracy McGrady.

McGrady had the potential to be one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen, but a slew of knee and back injuries put a halt to that theory.

The knee injuries robbed McGrady of his explosiveness, but he was able to compensate by relying on his skills.

However, McGrady's skills were useless when his back barely allowed him to move on the court.

I'm not saying that Howard is facing the same battle that McGrady was, but if he is, Howard is certainly not as equipped to deal with it.

Howard is a great player because of his athleticism, so what happens if he even loses a little of that due to his back injury?

Bynum, on the other hand, has always been an average athlete, but his fundamental skill meter is off the charts.

Bynum is bigger than Howard and he understands how to use his size to gain position in the paint, and while he has minimum lift in his legs, Bynum uses his strength to get good looks at the rim.

There is ample reason to believe that Bynum will continue to improve if he can conquer his bouts of immaturity, but can the same be said of Howard?

Howard has been pretty much the same dominant force of nature since he entered the NBA, but there is not one significant part of his game that can be pointed to as evidence of his progress.

Howard is still a poor free-throw shooter, he still doesn't have a back-to-the-basket game and he is a better paint protector than individual defender.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not entirely sold on the stability of Bynum's knees, and hinging the future of your franchise on a player with squeaky wheels could still prove to be disastrous for the Lakers.

But for the first time in recent memory, Bynum actually finished a season healthy and the only real question concerning the impending 2012-13 season is how he will respond on the court to all of the Howard speculation.

Would the Lakers and Kupchak rather deal with Bynum's issues or confront Howard's own ego and drama, along with a back injury that will remain a mystery until Howard hits the court for the first time?