The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 2, 2009 5:41 PM PDT
So for the second straight year, it seems, the Lakers will be without Andrew Bynum for a good chunk of the second half. The initial reports say 8-to-12 weeks. At best, that would mean a return in early April - and two weeks to get up to speed before the playoffs begin.
A 12-week rehab would probably mean he'd be aiming for a return after the first round. And that's assuming that his rehab goes according to schedule. As anyone who owned Bynum last year will remember, that's no sure thing.
Of course - without their big man, reaching the second round seems much less like a sure thing. Even if the Lakers are able to hang on to the top spot in the West - they're 5.5 games ahead of San Antonio and six up on Denver as I write - the eight seed in the Western Conference will not be an easy out; if the season ended today it would be Phoenix, but Utah is looming in ninth right now, and a team like the Mavs or Rockets could easily drop back a spot or two. Do you want any part of Kidd/Nowitzki in the first round? Yao/T-Mac/Artest? Shaq/Nash/Stoudemire?
The fantasy implications of this could be far-reaching. Tonight, at least, it seems Kobe Bryant is going to step up and replace all of Bynum's contribution by himself - he's got 27 points in 14 minutes so far, though it's worth noting he's going against the Knicks. Lamar Odom moved back into the starting lineup for tonight's game - theoretically, he should get a big boost for the second half as well. And for deep sleeper purposes, it seems Josh Powell is going to make up some of Bynum's minutes; Powell averages 7.6 minutes on the season - he's played five so far tonight.
(Kobe now has 29, by the way. There are three-and-change minutes left in the first half.)
To me, the more interesting angle to consider now is, "How does Bynum's status affect the rest of the Western contenders?" Does a team like, say, the Hornets, Nuggets or Spurs decide that the Lakers are vulnerable and try to make a big move before the deadline? Could one of the Western contenders get involved in the Shawn Marion sweepstakes - or take a chance on a Brad Miller or a Jermaine O'Neal? Are any of those teams one or two players away from being better than the Bynum-less Lakers?
(31 for Kobe.)
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: February 2, 2009 7:46 PM PDT
It's huge. Not that the Bynum-less Lakers aren't still the favorite, but the Spurs, Hornets, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Rockets, if they ever all get healthy at once, suddenly have a much better chance. And losing this year's Bynum was far bigger than losing last year's version. Of course, Odom gets a big bump, and a front line with Odom and Gasol is still formidable.
But if the Spurs were to add Miller (his passing and shooting ability would add another dimension to that already tough half-court offense), it could tip the balance in their favor. Marion would be a better fit in Denver, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony - their style would be tough on the slower-paced teams and add a good wrinkle in the playoffs. Typically, top-notch half court teams will win out, but Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony can both operate at any pace. (I'd be more concerned about their half-court defense - a player, I don't know, like Marcus Camby might be useful).
Houston is the team that intrigues me most. If Ron Artest and Yao Ming are 100 percent healthy, they have a chance even if Tracy McGrady is never quite the same. Houston has great role players from Luis Scola to Carl Landry to Shane Battier to Aaron Brooks. There are few teams with as much quality depth, and Yao is arguably a top-seven offensive player in the game. But the biggest obstacle so far has been getting a consistent lineup on the floor with all the injuries. They should probably add O'Neal now that the team has met it's annual medical deductible.
The Blazers are also a major wild card - the Tampa Bay Rays of the NBA. Everyone knew they'd be good eventually, and now that they're ahead of schedule, we don't know how much immediate upside they have. We talked about the likely improvement of LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden, paired with a budding superstar in Brandon Roy and good role players like Joel Przybilla, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez and Steve Blake. It wouldn't surprise me to see them knock off one of the favorites.
I don't see Phoenix or Dallas making a big impact in the playoffs. Maybe the Mavs would have a case if they acquired Miller or O'Neal, but I'm not confident in O'Neal being healthy and reliable at this point.
Incidentally, Kobe's got 59 as I type this.
You disagree with my analysis? And a related question for you - which I got from a reader - would you rather take Bynum (given his injury history) or Gilbert Arenas for 2009-10?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: February 3, 2009 6:18 AM PDT
And he finished with 61, setting a new record for points scored at Madison Square Garden.
Of course, Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game was also against the Knicks, but for some reason that one was played in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Last question first... At this point I'd say Bynum, for several reasons. First off, I'm a big believer in the healing power of youth - Bynum is just 21 and has comparatively little wear on the tires. Look at how Amare Stoudemire recovered from microfracture surgery as opposed to some of the older guys who had the same procedure - people don't even think about Stoudemire as an injury risk any more.
Second, while this is Bynum second knee injury in two years, it's a different type of injury and it's on the other knee. Last year he hurt his left kneecap - this time it's the MCL, a ligament within the knee. To me, that doesn't necessarily indicate an ongoing problem, just bad luck. Arenas, on the other hand, has had several surgeries on the same knee, in the space of just a couple of years, and Washington still doesn't seem to have any idea when - or if - he'll be back.
And third, let's assume both guys heal nicely but lose just a little bit of their explosiveness and lateral quickness - as can happen when you're talking about knee problems. Whose game suffers more? Gotta be Arenas, right?
Honestly, I'd be more inclined to draft Arenas next year if the Wizards do shut him down for the rest of this season - or put him on the Elton Brand plan - let him play a couple of games in April, but that's it. I want Arenas fully healthy before he gets back on the floor - the league is a more entertaining place with him in it.
I think your trade proposals make a lot of sense - Miller to the Spurs and Marion to the Nuggets in particular. Matt Bonner has been thriving in the middle for San Antonio, and Miller is a much better player. And a trade to Denver would likely put Marion back at the four spot on a regular basis, which is his best position on offense.
I think the Mavs could become a more dangerous team now that Rick Carlisle is loosening the reins a bit and letting Jason Kidd call the majority of the plays. And the Suns have plenty of talent - it's not outrageous to think they could get hot for a week and put a scare into somebody if they all get on the same page.
But I'm more interested to see what the Blazers will do now. In theory, they're building their team the right way. They have a terrific young core that's just going to get better; the thing they need most is another year or two of experience. But opportunities to win a championship are few and far between. If you're running the Blazers - do you try to swing a deal that will put them over the top this year? What if you have to sacrifice some of that young talent to do it?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: Febuary 3, 2009 12:17 PM PDT
I agree that Bynum has far more long-term keeper-league upside, but if Arenas were to come all the way back (obviously no sure thing), he's a top 5-10 overall player. Bynum was playing great, but it's hard to know how consistent he'll be, and he has to share the ball with Kobe and Gasol. And even if his injury is just bad luck, and he's young enough to have a good prognosis, it's still troubling that it happened two years in a row. That said, I told the reader to go with Bynum, too because I'd bet against Arenas being all the way back, and as you pointed out, even a slight drop-off could really hurt his game. But it's close for one year at least.
I don't think the Blazers should make a move this year unless they can acquire a major impact player on the cheap (like the Lakers did last year). For starters, they don't need any bigs with Oden, Aldridge and Przybilla, and I'm not sure how much a player like Marion, especially out of position at the three, would really help. I suppose someone like Baron Davis could make a big impact, but I'm not sure what they have to give up salary-wise, and we saw how hard it can be to integrate a new point guard midstream with the Mavs last year.
Speaking of which - maybe the Mavs could be dangerous, but they need to get Josh Howard going more. And I wasn't aware that their defense has actually been pretty good (8th best in FG percentage allowed and 10th best in free throws per game allowed). It's hard for me to see a bunch of older guys (Dirk, Kidd and Jason Terry) turning back the clock, but the Celtics did it last year, so who knows? And while it might seem like a leap to compare the Mavs with the Celtics, prior to last year, Nowitzki and Garnett, and Kidd and Pierce weren't considered that far apart in career stature.
I'm skeptical of Phoenix, though. They're leading the league in field-goal percentage, and they have great individual talent. But to win at the half-court game, you need tough-minded, win-ugly guys like Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell types, and I'm not sure Nash, Stoudemire and Richardson are suited for that. Maybe they'll prove me wrong, but it seems with Shaq playing such a major role, there's no way to make optimal use of Nash's or Stoudemire's skills.
Article first appeared on 2/3/09