Interpreting fan sentiment regarding whether they prefer Andrew Bynum or Carmelo Anthony
The headline across the L.A. Times' sports page sums it all up: "Don't count on Carmelo Anthony coming to Lakers"
Click on the link and you will come across a report from The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turnerthat explains the Lakers don't want to trade center Andrew Bynum to the Denver Nuggets for forward Anthony, refuting an ESPN report that said the teams were in preliminary talks.
That's not going to silence the chatter, no matter how much it appears a Bynum-Melo deal won't happen, something that's also echoed by The New York Daily News' Frank Isola. Readers of The Times' Lakers blog spent all day analyzing what would happen should the Lakers trade Bynum, debated with fans via live chat on what the Lakers should do and even voted in a few polls that capture fan sentiments.
A poll in The Times' Fabulous Forum indicated that 74.16% of fans believe the Lakers should make the deal, and a poll in the latest live chat shows that 69% of voters want Melo on the Lakers in place of Bynum. The results struck me for several reasons. As many times as fans have expressed frustration over the team's play in the comment threads, few sentiments share a sense of uncertainty regarding the team's future. The poll results seem to suggest otherwise. As many times as the fans contributed to this trade discussion, most of the actual comments provided specific reasons why the Lakers should hold onto Bynum and avoid being part of the Melo-drama. There seems to be a silent majority.
With the help of at least a few commentators, below are a few reasons why the support for Melo appears stronger than that for Bynum.
1. Anthony pairing up with Kobe Bryant would actually be a good thing. There's an understandable concern that pairing the Black Mamba with Melo would bring inevitable friction. They're both NBA superstars. They're both scorers. And they both cut corners on defense. In other words, the reason why the two admire each other's game so much is that they have the same basketball mentality. Melo isn't near Bryant in terms of championships, but the ability to score on a dime is still there. But how do you replicate that when there's only one basketball? How does the team maintain that balance that it always strives for with Bryant's aggressive scoring and facilitating, Pau Gasol's post presence, Lamar Odom's versatility and, on the best days, some actual outside shooting from Ron Artest and Derek Fisher?
But to some, Melo's similar mind-set in scoring may be just what the Lakers need. "i feel carmelo is a scorer something kobe needs right now," all out wrote. "gasol isnt doin as well this year i feel carmelo to la is what im hoping for."
It could work because the two have a close friendship that goes back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with Melo and Bryantsaying on separate occasions that they felt jovial around each other and taught each other their moves. Melo would want to fit in with whatever fits in with the Lakers so that Bryant earns another ring. Bryant, who's admitted Melo's unhappiness with Denver reminds him of his earlier discontent with the Lakers, would also feel inclined to help Anthony fit right in, knowing how hungry he is to finally win a championship and that ensuring Melo maintains his scoring rate would ease the burden on Bryant's body. As much concern as there is about Anthony's possibly changing the team's identity, experiencing a learning curve and disrupting chemistry, the Lakers and their fans want stars. Forget worrying about the team concept because it will revolve around the team's best players.
2. Patience for Bynum has run out. Just when it appeared Bynum had returned to the good graces of Lakers fans (or at least enough that any topic involving Bynum doesn't just lead to an endless argument) after the Lakers won the 2010 NBA title, Bynum expended that capital by delaying off-season surgery on his right knee so he could attend the World Cup. I defended Bynum's decision at the time because the delay amounted more to a collective miscalculation by the organization than an indictment of his hunger level. No matter which side you're on with this issue, however, there's one indisputable truth. Bynum's delayed surgery has largely contributed to the Lakers' inconsistency this season.
It's not fair to pin this all on Bynum, but his 24-game absence provided a trickle effect that proved hard for the Lakers to overcome. First, the heavy mileage on Gasol caught up to him and left him fatigued and ineffective. As soon as that happened, the Lakers lost the consistency in the post, putting the responsibility on others to providethat production. With the Lakers' outside shooting proving largely undependable, most of the offense revolved around Bryant leading the team at will and Odom posting a consistently reliable double-double. With the offensive chemistry floundering, Gasol gassed and the Lakers lacking Bynum's length inside, the team's defense in turn became unreliable as well.
Bynum's return has helped solidify the team's defensive rotations, particularly with the new defensive scheme that's emphasized him staying close to the basket to shut off drivers in the lane. But his conditioning is nowhere near where Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wants it to be, and minor issues such as a bruised left knee that sidelined last week for one game add further worries that the only reliable Vegas line involving Bynum involves when he'll get injured. With ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher recently tweeting that Orlando Center Dwight Howard has his "eye on Lakers don't win Magic in next 2 years," the Lakers could easily return to that post-oriented team while also finding a baton holder in Melo for when Bryant is ready to hand over the reins.
"Bynum is too often injured and his production isnt there like it was back in 08 when he started to dominate," adam wrote. "I also dont like the kids outside activities away from basketball. Playboy parties, getting high speed tickets, all while he is suppossed to be nurturing his knee and getting back into game shape. Melo would certainly qualify as new blood as Magic stated. I dont buy this refuted report one bit when Kupchack and Magic have been saying, a trade is necessary. When all the teams ahead of you own you, you need to do something. If the deal can be worked to get Nene as well in exchange for a few minor pieces since Denver is clearly looking to dump salary, then the FO would have to be idiots to not do this deal. It gives the team incentive to play again and show what true champs are made of!"
3. Lakers fans just love trade talk. Besides salivating over NBA championships, there's one thing Lakers fans love to do: complain. They complain if they're losing. If they're winning, they complain about individual performances. If everyone's playing well, they complain about other teams. And if the Lakers are simply coming off a championship season, they're complaining during the off-season that the season hasn't started yet.
Based on my experience reading and moderating comments over the year, however, I think the media overstates the overreaction among Lakers fans, whether it's the belief that their team is the greatest after they win or the worst after they lose. There's no doubt many of the fans express confidence in the Lakers' collecting championship after championship and are upset over a string of bad performances. But the wide range in comments after a win or a loss shows a healthy nuance of paying attention both to the ebbs and flows of the season and maintaining a big-picture perspective. If anything, an exercise like today really just shows that Lakers fans like to complain just because they can and not because they're overly worried about the state of the franchise. Sizing up trade scenarios is fun, and if it involves furthering the discussion on a report the Lakers immediately refuted, who cares? There's nothing else to talk about when the Lakers have the day off.
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Photo: Kobe Bryant, left, and Carmelo Anthony have their game faces on during the Lakers-Nuggets playoff series in April 2008. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.