Andrew Bynum’s Bittersweet Valediction and L.A.’s Bright New Future

Toy Story 3 was easily my favourite of the trilogy as it centered on a premise we’ve all dealt with at some point at one point in our lives or another: dealing with something you’ve outgrown. In the film, Andy’s gang of toys were accidentally thrown out by his mother as he couldn’t bring them to college with him.

Whenever the Lakers make a trade, before I get overjoyed as who the club just acquired I always get who they gave up first. Just as Andy had troubles letting Buzz Lightyear and Woody go, I become overly attached to players who were drafted as Lakers. But the NBA’s a business first and Andrew Bynum now joins a long-line of quality players who were drafted by the Lakers, then let go by them (Devean George, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher just to name a few).

Humans also have a tendency to forget about what they used to treasure very quickly once something new comes into their lives.  All the focus over the past 72 hours has been on Dwight Howard’s arrival in Los Angeles, as it should be. Superman 2.0 represents an upgrade over his incumbent, Andrew Bynum, in almost every basketball metric.

In the unexpected four team blockbuster, Bynum was shipped to Philadelphia where he can finally be the centerpiece of a team, a goal he always craved in Los Angeles but couldn’t fulfill until Kobe Bryant decides to hang them up.

In his seven-year career in the purple and gold, the 24-year-old often showed glimpses of superstardom but never fully achieved it. Perhaps it was because he never received the opportunity to, as the spotlight in Los Angeles was shared amongst a myriad of stars.

More than anything, Bynum’s injuries got in the way of his development; in 2009  he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds over a stretch of five games before suffering a season ending injury in Memphis.

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The year before that, Bynum also missed the majority of the season (playing in only 35 games). It can be argued that if the big man was healthy, the Lakers would’ve fared much better against the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Finals. I still occasionally have nightmares of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins bullying Gasol, Lamar Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic.

What was more worrisome than his injuries was his attitude issues on and off the court. It appeared an impossible task for Bynum to get better as a basketball player without it being marred by controversy. Take for example, after he grabbed 30 rebounds against the Spurs this past season (arguably his greatest game as a Laker), he immaturely sought out the ball from Steve Blake in the dwindling seconds of the game, then to put the cherry on top he cursed in the post-game interview.

*Quick tangent: In the span of the last two years he’s also elbowed JJ Barea and Michael Beasley,  laughed after he was ejected against the Houston Rockets, and benched after he shot an inadvertent three-pointer against the Warriors.

The euphemism ‘what could’ve been’ is a perfect encapsulation of Andrew Bynum’s NBA career to this point. And that’s what ultimately forced the Lakers to make this trade, they decided that banking on a proven commodity (Howard) was safer than going all in on an ever-developing variable (Bynum).

My friend once told me when you look back at your memories with someone you tend to remember the good times over the bad, which rings true here with Bynum. Twenty years from now, when my son asks me what I remember about Andrew Bynum’s career as a Laker, I’ll use two checkpoints to describe the one-time All-Star to him. It all began when he confronted Shaquille O’Neal as a rookie and it ended with grace when he swatted a record breaking 10 shots in Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets.

Breakups are a tough pill to swallow, in relationships with our significant others and with the basketball players we watch 82 times a year. Fortunately for us Laker fans, there’s no need for a grieving process or any rebound hookups, because you know the best center in the league has already landed in our laps.

Plus history has shown the Lakers always win breakups with their former players ever since Mitch Kupchak took over as General Manager. Kupchak decided to keep Kobe over Shaq, swapped Kwame Brown and the rights to Marc Gasol for Pau, almost acquired Chris Paul (something I can finally laugh about), traded draft picks for Steve Nash, and finally flipped Bynum for Howard.

Just like in Toy Story 3, this trade also has a happy ending as everyone benefited but the Orlando Magic. The Lakers can now finally legitimately compete for a championship again, and former center Andrew Bynum is free to be the best center in the Eastern Conference without being harped by the national media after every immature act.

An embarrassment of riches, it seems, in every sense.

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