Carmelo Anthony, left, may be talented, but Andrew Bynum is the biggest… (Jim O'Connor / U.S. Presswire;…)
I listen to Phil Jackson.
That doesn't mean I don't tease him, make fun of him or wonder what Jeanie sees in him.
But I listen, because he seems to know something about basketball. And every year around about the time the playoffs start, Phil makes mention of size and the considerable advantage it gives the Lakers.
"It has brought us championships," he said again by telephone Tuesday night from Boston.
That's why I argue Andrew Bynum is the single BIGGEST reason why the Lakers are favorites to win it all again.
Anyone who would suggest getting rid of him, well, I would wonder if they really cared about our Lakers repeating as champions. And is there anything more important?
With Bynum and Pau Gasol together in the middle, there is no other team in the West that can contend with such size.
How many times have we watched the Lakers go through well-meaning first- and second-round opponents because those teams lack a quality center? How many of those teams would like to deal with Bynum's growing pains?
San Antonio might have the home-court advantage, but the Spurs' biggest shortcomings are how much Tim Duncan has lost, the lack of an effective center to play alongside him, and no chance anymore to see Eva Longoria in attendance.
In the East, there is only one team that has enough muscle to hang inside with the Lakers' big men, the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics can go to the bench. Nobody else in the East can, but if the Celtics don't make it to the NBA Finals, how do the Heat and Magic cope with both Bynum and Gasol?
The Magic has Dwight Howard, but he can't guard both. The Heat has to hope for long rebounds.
With Bynum at center it makes a power forward out of Gasol, who no longer seems so soft.
Three seasons ago, Bynum did not play in the Finals against Boston. Gasol moved to center and moved everywhere the Celtics elected to push him. The Lakers lost.
Bynum had injury issues the last two seasons, but still made significant contributions in the Finals. Last year he gained the respect of teammates when he tore knee cartilage in the first round against Oklahoma City but continued playing throughout the playoffs.
Listen to Jackson and he's always gearing up for the playoffs, this year's being his last before he gets lost in Montana. Give him Bynum from the start as a sort of going-away gift and he probably becomes even a better coach.
As statistics go, one of the best things Bynum does for the Lakers is often not noticed. As big as he is, he alters shots. A team that doesn't always play all out on defense needs something like that as a last resort.
Add the long arms of Gasol at playoff time, when basketball becomes more of a half-court game, and there's a reason why the Lakers play so well when it really counts.
"I'm a big believer in size," Jackson said. "Look at the difference Pau made to our team. And Andrew, while limited at times, has already made a difference in our season so far."
The kid is only 23, and how would you like to have his future, which might include standing tall as the best center in the league one day? If anyone should know the value of having the best center in the game, it should be Lakers fans.
Those who would trade him believe they would be giving away someone injury-prone for one of the game's premier showmen in Carmelo Anthony.
Never mind that Anthony lacks basketball instincts and is at best a very poor imitation of Kobe Bryant — the Lakers would be weakened at center.
What's the bigger gamble when it comes to positioning the Lakers for a championship run: Bynum's health or the Lakers' tampering with team chemistry?
Some make the argument the Lakers would be better off in the years to come with Anthony, a 26-year-old superstar-in-the-making to fill the void left by an aging Derek Fisher and well-worn Bryant.
Who knows what happens in the future? They might not even play basketball next season. We don't know who will be coaching the team or what style of play will be employed.
What matters is now, and what gives the Lakers the best chance of riding in another parade.
As a columnist, I would love the addition of Anthony, taking everything written about our own Ball Hog over the years and just substituting Anthony's name for Bryant's. At some point I might even get Kobe to agree with me when it comes to who is hogging the ball.
As for defense and comparing him to Bryant in that regard, there wouldn't be any mention because Anthony doesn't play any.
When I talked to Phil, he had just heard about the trade speculation minutes earlier from Times beat writer Mike Bresnahan. He dropped Bresnahan's call as soon as I called, just as you might expect, but was still trying to understand where the rumor got started.
"I'm really not up to speed on this," he said. "I'm not going to be connected to the future of the team, so I really couldn't comment anyway."
But one might make an educated guess that if there was any truth to the trade rumor, someone would have called Phil and asked how things might go the remainder of the season with Anthony taking Bynum's spot on the roster.
I've got to believe there's no truth to any of this, the people who really know their basketball ignoring the crackpots and understanding how important Bynum is to winning another title.