Andrew, Injuries, and the Future

Phillip Barnett —  July 21, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, Mark Medina wrote a post about how Yao Ming’s early retirement should be taken as a lesson by Andrew Bynum, another promising center whose future career is still pretty much a question mark due to his injury history. From Medina’s post:

There are several lessons Bynum could take if he watched Yao Ming announce his retirement Wednesday in China after an accomplished nine-year career ended because of recurring injuries. Should Bynum be wary of a similar fate? Will Bynum’s career be cut short because of continuous trips to the trainer’s room to treat his wobbly knees? Will his legacy be tainted like Yao’s with wondering what Bynum could’ve accomplished had he stayed healthy? And will Bynum eventually need to adopt a plan the Rockets prescribed for Yao in which he wouldn’t play more than 24 minutes per game?

I’ve been of the pro-Bynum camp for some years now. However, recent history tells the story of the “challenges of building around a center vs. you need size to contend for rings” paradox. In recent years, the Mavericks, Lakers and Celtics have all been Finals champions by winning with size, but none of those teams were exactly built around a center. Dallas with Dirk, the Lakers with Kobe and the Celtics with Pierce.

Conversely, we’ve seen the Magic struggle to get over the conjectural hump with Dwight Howard as their centerpiece and Houston struggled even more with Yao always battling injuries. Even the Trailblazers know how hard it is to contend with an injury prone center with Greg Oden (and even Sam Bowie in ’84) spending a large majority of his young career on the sidelines.

So where do the Lakers go with Andrew Bynum?

It’s been clear that Jim Buss is willing to hold on to Bynum by any means necessary, but is it wise to focus the future of your franchise on a young center who has had his fair share of injuries? At this point, it’s hard to give a definite answer considering the fact that ‘Drew has shown flashes of absolute brilliance on both sides of the ball, and could make a legit claim to be the league’s second best center when healthy — but that qualifier is exactly what has a lot of us questioning whether or not Bynum is the future.

Without question, if you can have the best center in your conference in a league that has been dominated by size in recent years, you have to say yes. However, it doesn’t make sense to keep him if he’s going to spend more time in street close than on the hard wood. When the lockout ends, the Lakers are going to have a lot of minor roster questions to deal with, but the franchise’s big picture question about their future is surely whether or not they’re going to move forward with Bynum.

Last season, ‘Drew didn’t have any major injury issues. The optimists among us might point out the fact that he had a series of scary moments and nothing bad happened. On the flip side, some might wonder if that season was an outlier in a career that has shown trends of prolonged injuries. Obviously, time will tell whether or not he’s completely shaken the injury bug, and I hope he does — because if he happens to fulfill his potential, the transition after Kobe’s retirement would be a much easier one. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Lakers handle this situation and how Bynum handles his body. I’d hate for Bynum’s career to end in the same fashion as Yao’s.

Phillip Barnett