Poll Question: What do you think of Lamar Odom's returning to the bench upon Andrew Bynum's return?
Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum began training camp on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Odom spent most of his offseason playing for Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and entered training camp the best in shape because of that experience. Bynum spent his offseason getting surgery on his right knee to treat the lateral meniscus tear he suffered during the 2010 NBA playoffs, a controversial decision considering the surgery happened after attending the World Cup and resulted in him missing the start of the season.
After Odom's disappointing playoff run prompted the Lakers to consider dumping his salary, he's played with a relentless work ethic, dropping three double doubles through five regular-season games, consistently fulfilling a jack-of-all-trades role and remaining insistent that he doesn't want to dial it down. After Bynum valiantly fought through pain during the postseason, he's rehabbed his surgically repaired right knee while fans wonder about his commitment level.
The two will soon come at a crossroads because Jackson estimated Bynum will return to practice by the end of next week and will eventually take Odom's starting position once he begins playing, believed to be around Thanksgiving. Jackson contended after practice Thursday that the switch is "best for the team," a point Odom agreed with when he told The Times' Mike Bresnahan, "Makes no difference to me. We've won two championships."
Even if there isn't much of a debate among the team, I noticed a discussion brewing as early as Sunday during the Lakers' 107-83 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Below the jump, I size up each position, provide my overall take and then ask for your vote in a poll.
Why Bynum should start and Odom should return to the bench: Even though the Lakers are 5-0, the team has correctly lamented its poor defense as it's surrendered more than 100 points in four of the five contests. Bynum's prescence alone should immediately improve that area. Even though Bynum played a limited role in the 2010 NBA Finals and Western Conference finals because of the injured right knee, he gave the Celtics and Suns fits because his size and height kept opponents from freely driving into the lane. He also became instrumental in the close baskets and rebounds, relieving Gasol from that responsibility while he concentrated more on the post. Bynum's presence is crucial early in the game because his production often comes when he builds a rhythm. Being a linchpin early on defense will also force teams to make adjustments quickly.
This situation also plays to Odom's strength because he's used to coming off the bench. Jackson had even started playing Odom with the bench's regular unit beginning Sunday against Golden State so they become more comfortable with him. The skills Odom and Bynum have also makes this scenario possible. Odom's jack-of-all trades role plays to the reserves' strength because he can fit in with any combination and he makes the bench players more comfortable by getting him involved. Bynum -- being a 7-foot center with a large wingspan -- is a rare asset to have, but it's a specific skill that works best only in certain situations. Bynum's going to be behind on conditioning, and there's no way he'd be able to keep up with the speed Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes bring on the floor. Bynum's post presence will work much effectively with the veterans because they know one another and they'll play at a more deliberate pace than the bench will.
Why Odom should keep his starting spot and Bynum should come off the bench: Odom has earned it. He averaged 10.9 points on 46.9% shooting and a team-leading 10.7 rebounds in 31.7 minutes per contest during the exhibition season, he opened the season with three double doubles and he's cracked double digits in every game. Though I defended Bynum's decision to delay surgery because he needed rest and he was assured the surgery date would give him enough time to rehab before training camp, I understand the sentiment that immediately giving Bynum a starting gig sends the wrong message to a team that stresses professionalism and accountability. It's unpredictable how long it will take Bynum to fully catch up on conditioning and chemistry with his teammates, so it'd be better for Bynum to come offthe bench as he progresses. Besides, why mess with what has been working? The Lakers have averaged a league-leading 113 points, and Odom's been a large contributor in that effort by giving the Lakers' second-chance points, timely outlet passes on breaks and dependable outside shooting and post play. There's no need to diminish Odom's role when it's proved to be so valuable.
The verdict:I'm going with Jackson's decision to put Bynum back in the starting spot for the reasons I outline above. It's likely Bynum's minutes will be fairly limited when he first steps on the court, but I honestly don't think he'll be as effective with the reserves because they haven't played him. Putting 7-footers side-by-side in Bynum and Pau Gasol is a luxury only the Lakers have, and there's no way teams can consistently stop it when they also have to worry about Kobe Bryant. The claim that Bynum and Gasol can't play together proves no longer valid as indicated last season by their playoff chemistry.
In Odom's case, he's either the beneficiary or victim of being good at everything. It depends how you look at it. That's made Odom a moveable part in Jackson's rotation, but it hasn't made him disposable. I can't think of anyone in this league who possesses the skills Odom has. His numbers may dip after coming off the bench, but I don't think his minutes will diminish for the simple reason that Bynum's presence will help relieve the burden Gasol and Odom have fielded thus far on the Lakers' frontline. Because of that, Odom will still remain effective enough to be a significant part of the offense and it'll bolster an already promising bench.
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Photo: With the Lakers off to a strong start this season, the team is not in a hurry to bring back injured center Andrew Bynum. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.