James Worthy prefers Andrew Bynum over Carmelo Anthony
One by one, prominent former Lakers voiced their displeasure about the state of the team, causing rumblings among the players and their fan base.
First came Jerry West's criticism of the team's defense, skepticism on how long its veteran-heavy roster would last and whether the Lakers would be able to beat the Boston Celtics in the 2011 NBA Finals. Second came Mitch Kupchak's acknowledgement that he'd consider making a trade because of the team's inconsistency. Third came Magic Johnson's echoing of Kupchak's thinking, arguing that the Lakers' double-digit losses to Miami and Boston revealed the organization needed to reshape the roster.
James Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Lakers during the Showtime Era, earned an NBA Finals MVP award in 1988 and appeared in seven All-Star games, didn't continue that lineage. Serving as an in-game analyst for KCAL-9, Worthy has seen enough of the Lakers (36-16) to believe the Lakers are better off keeping Andrew Bynum than trading him for Denver forward Carmelo Anthony, the subject of much debate in the past few days.
"I like Carmelo, there's no question," Worthy said Wednesday night at a T-Mobile store in Studio City, where he met with fans in an event promoting NBA All-Star weekend. "He's a young player and very talented. If you look at what Miami has done, everybody is trying to put the dynamic duo together. But I love Andrew Bynum. It's hard to come by a young player that's a seven-footer. I know a lot of people think he's injury prone, but I think that might be behind him. He's shown progress and his knee is something he's going to have to deal with, but I think right now the chemistry is good. They have a good corps."
The discussion surrounding a possible Anthony-Bynum deal originated from an ESPN.com report that said the Lakers and Denver Nuggets had entered preliminary discussions for a deal that would send Bynum to Denver for Anthony -- a report the Lakers refuted to The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner -- and an item in which the New York Daily News' Frank Isola reported via Twitter that "sources say that [team executive] Jim Buss recently rejected a Bynum for Carmelo deal, much to the dismay of Kobe [Bryant] and Phil [Jackson].
Bryant and Jackson made no indication of that thinking after practice to reporters in Boston. Bresnahan quoted Bryant as saying Bynum is "extremely important" to the Lakers and Jackson as joking he'd only accept a deal involving Anthony if it meant the Lakers shipping off rookie backup center Derrick Caracter.
"I think we're okay with what we have right now," Worthy said. "So I don't know if I'd do it. But you never know in this business what's going to happen."
The Lakers have more issues than just answering to trade reports. They enter Thursday's game at Boston wondering if they're improved enough to match the team they beat in the 2010 NBA Finals, something they failed to do in a double-digit loss 10 days ago. It was an outcome that featured little offensive balance, an overmanned frontline and an overwhelmed Ron Artest. The Lakers entered their seven-game trip with a two-game winning streak, but they remain in third-place in the Western Conference, trailing the first-place San Antonio Spurs (44-8) by eight games and the Dallas Mavericks (36-15) by half a game. The Lakers have a 1-6 record against teams that have better records. But Worthy believes the Lakers will consistently pick up their play after the All-Star break.
"I like this year's team," Worthy said. "They haven't really lived up to the expectations, but it's a long season. I know what it is like to come back from being back-to-back champions. It's kind of hard to conjure that up every night. But they have a couple weeks to correct it. If they haven't turned it around, I think it will be an issue."
James was referring to the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons, when he was part of the Lakers' back-to-back championships seasons. The Lakers became the first NBA team to repeat since the 1969 Boston Celtics, an achievement that followed Pat Riley's guarantee at the 1987 championship parade that the Lakers would repeat. The next season, the Lakers went through a month-long stretch where they lost eight consecutive road games and ended the season with an NBA Finals sweep to the Detroit Pistons, partly because Magic Johnson and Byron Scott missed three games because of injury. Worthy still maintains the Lakers can avoid the same fate so long as they stay healthy.
"I like where they are," he said. "I've been where they are. It's a struggle every night and there's inconsistent play. They have good leadership with Kobe and Derek [Fisher], and as soon as they get Matt Barnes back [from a right knee injury] to complete that bench, I think they'll be OK. It's a lot of miles on those bodies from playing so many games and I think they'll be good once they get their second wind. I don't think they're lacking anything except consistency. They know what it takes to win. Once they get to that formula, they should be OK. If not, then it could be tough."
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Photo: Former Laker James Worthy argues the Lakers are still in good enough shape. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times