The Lakers would become championship contenders once again by acquiring… (Rex Arbogast / Associated…)
Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a column for this newspaper in which I urged the Lakers to trade Andrew Bynum to Orlando for Dwight Howard.
There being no statute of limitation on statues with limitations, I'm writing it again.
Recent events apparently have given the Lakers one more chance to make this deal, and while they wouldn't listen to me the first time, maybe they will heed the loud gurgling of a year spent circling the drain.
It was a year in which Bynum, despite his steady improvement on the court, remained the sort of bratty teenager who probably will never grow up until he is sent away from home.
It was a year in which Bynum, despite staying mostly healthy, showed he doesn't have the flexibility or fortitude to complement Kobe Bryant.
It was a year in which the Lakers won only one more playoff game than the previous season, with absolutely no hope of improving as constituted.
A year ago, it was a good deal. Now, it is a great deal.
Howard, the game's premier center, would immediately lift the Lakers from irrelevancy into championship contention. He is surrounded by tricky questions, but is reinforced with good answers.
Yes, he is recovering from back surgery that caused him to miss this spring's playoffs. But he is a tough guy who had missed only seven games over seven previous seasons.
Yes, he has only one year left on his contract and has said he would sign an extension only with the Brooklyn Nets. But history has shown that the Lakers are the one team with enough swagger and glitter to convince a reluctant star to change his mind.
Yes, last year he had a reportedly combative phone conversation with Bryant that led Howard to believe that the two stars couldn't coexist. No doubt, Bryant began the conversation by subtly saying, "This is my team." But that was before Bryant realized his mortality in this spring's playoffs . After nights like the one in Oklahoma City where Bryant essentially handed the Thunder a victory down the stretch, here's guessing he finally realizes he will have to defer to a new Superman to help him win that sixth championship.
Finally, yes, Howard has acted with some petulance while trying to engineer his departure from Orlando, including recently demanding a trade for the umpteenth time. But I seem to recall another NBA star who left his team under much harsher circumstances, and somehow LeBron James changed his demeanor and handled our criticism long enough to win a championship.
Howard can win one here. Howard can be the centerpiece for the next five years here. Howard can be the perfect transitional star to carry the Lakers into a new era.
As for Bynum, he would work just as perfectly in the other direction.
How many times can a rebuilding team acquire an All-Star starting center who is just 24? Bynum is the Magic's best chance at convincing fans that Howard's departure is not an end, but a beginning. With both the team and the player desperate for a new start, it would be a match made in Disney World.
Bynum has never really matured here, and last season that immaturity finally infected the locker room as acts of apathy and defiance undermined Coach Mike Brown and divided the team. But this attitude is nothing that a change of scenery and leadership couldn't fix.
Bynum has never been a consistent force here, including disappearing in a Denver playoff game because, as he admitted later, he just wasn't ready to play. But he increasingly bristled at playing a secondary role to Bryant, and might flourish with increased responsibilities.
I can totally see Bynum going to Orlando, signing a contract extension, and eventually growing into the leader that he could never become here. As long as Bynum's knees hold up — and isn't this the same risk as Howard's back? —- this could be the kind of deal that gives the Magic the sort of hope that was lost when it lost its last big man to the Lakers, guy by the name of Shaquille O'Neal.
There is some thought that the Lakers wouldn't want to absorb the kind of price they must pay the expensive role players that the Magic would insist accompany Howard to Los Angeles. After being heavily criticized for losing Lamar Odom in last year's salary dump, here's hoping Jim Buss realizes that Lakers fans aren't tolerant of the sort of belt-tightening decisions that would never be made by his father.
A year ago, my trade suggestion led to much chiding from Lakers officials and fans who couldn't believe anyone would want to trade one of the best young players in the game. I don't hear many of those jeers anymore. This last season has opened eyes and closed mouths with the painful reality of a future that is going nowhere fast.
The Lakers have had a year to think about this. Time's up. Do it now. In talking about the team's trade prospects, General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently said, "We'll try to hit a home run."
This is that pitch.