Dwight Howard hasn't been at full strength for the Lakers.
At the time of the four-team blockbuster deal, the Lakers and Sixers came away looking like huge winners.
Los Angeles had swapped the league's second-best center in Bynum for its best in Howard, giving up Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and a 2017 first-round pick for the privilege. Meanwhile, Philly parted with Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a 2015 first-rounder for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, making a borderline playoff team an Eastern Conference contender.
That was back in the summer of 2012, when everything was cheery and both franchises only had eyes on future championships.
The Lakers knew even then that Howard would be feeling the effects of back surgery through the beginning of the season, and the Sixers knew Bynum was an injury risk. Yet both teams were only concerned with their respective center's ability when healthy, not when hurt.
What a long time ago that seems.
Howard has been bothered by his bad back in his time as a Laker, limiting the three-time Defensive Player of the Year at that end of the court. Even though he has still made an impact in the post, he has struggled to coexist with Pau Gasol on the court and clashed with Kobe Bryant off it.
Meanwhile, Bynum has succumbed to injuries in both knees and has yet to see the court in the 2012-13 season. ESPN reports that he hopes to play this season, but there is no timetable for his return. Bynum's contract also expires after the season, so there's a possibility that the Sixers won't get a single game out of their offseason prize.
Obviously, this trade hasn't worked out according to plan for either team. Even so, it was only a cut-and-dried mistake for the Sixers.
The Case Against the Sixers
You can't blame Philadelphia for the intent behind the Bynum trade. You can blame them for the risk they took.
After a surprising trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012, the ceiling seemed low for the Sixers. Lou Williams was leaving, Jrue Holiday was a work in progress and Andre Iguodala was their best player, a very good wing on a team wild with pretty good wings. They had no imposing presence in the post.
Desperate for a sense of direction for the future of the team, Philly sought out a star. Without the financial flexibility to work through free agency, the Sixers looked to the trade market. With Andrew Bynum available as collateral in a Howard trade, he was Philly's most logical option.
But by focusing on Bynum's recent ascent to stardom, the Sixers discounted his injury track record.
With 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in 2011-12, Bynum finally made good on his incredible potential. The big story, however, was that he put up those numbers while missing only six games, his fewest in five years.
Between 2007-08 and 2010-11, Bynum missed at least 17 games in every season and at least 28 games in three of the four. Only once in his entire career, in 2006-07, has Bynum gotten through an entire season without missing a game. Most of the injuries that knocked him out over the years have been to his knees.
When you look at Bynum's career, his star season jumps out as the anomaly. It's no shock that his knees have been compromised to the point that his longevity is now in question. After years of knee injuries, this was the most likely outcome for Bynum.
Philly was right to target a cornerstone to build around. Bynum just had too many red flags to trust in that role. There was a chance he'd get past his injury woes, but it's clear he hasn't and he won't.
For that, the Sixers have no one but themselves to blame.
The Case for the Lakers
Ask any man, especially if he has played sports as an adult, and he'll tell you that you never completely get over your back issues.
Back injuries are particularly nagging for big men, which is something to watch with Dwight Howard going forward. He hasn't moved as well as he used to this season, but it's possible that he's never quite going to be the athlete he once was.
When you watch him play, it's clear that Howard isn't as active of a help defender as he used to be. He also resorts to more hand checks now rather than moving his feet on defense. Still strong on the interior, he hasn't been able to compensate for his teammates by single-handedly locking down the perimeter.
That said, a limited Howard is still the best center on the planet. If you look at the stat sheet, it doesn't seem like he has dropped off at all.
Back issues and all, Howard is averaging 17.3 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season. The diminished points are a product of being a secondary scoring option for the first time in years, and he's rebounding and blocking roughly as much as usual.
Now remember everything we said about Andrew Bynum.
The Lakers traded a very good center with a long track record of knee injuries for a great center with a short track record of back injuries. Howard is definitively a better, more reliable, much less risky player than Bynum. His ceiling is higher than Bynum's ceiling and his floor is higher than Bynum's floor. That's why the Lakers traded one for the other.
Who made a mistake in the Howard-Bynum blockbuster trade?
This is the part of the program where the naysayers talk about Howard's personality poisoning the Lakers' locker room.
However, you can't mention Howard sabotaging Stan van Gundy without bringing up Bynum decking Jose Juan Barea in the 2011 playoffs. You could've predicted that there would be friction between Howard and the notoriously coarse Kobe Bryant, but Kobe and Bynum have had their differences, too. Neither guy is a saint, and ultimately the off-court comparison is a wash.
On the court and off it, there was no downside to the Lakers' trade. Los Angeles would've been too old and a sieve defensively if Bynum and his balky knees were still in town.
For all their hardships this season, the Lakers made the right move in acquiring Dwight Howard. More to the point, they picked the right center between Howard and Andrew Bynum. They knew what could go wrong with Bynum, something the Sixers must wish they had taken more seriously.
Stats accurate as of Jan. 11, 2013.