Countdown to Christmas: Centers of attention

We'll never know if the marriage of Chris Paul to the Lakers would have ultimately panned out, but in the hour or two Los Angeles thought he was joining the purple and gold, it seemed there were two clear winners:

1. Kobe Bryant. Playing next to Paul could have extended his career by a year or two, as Paul not only would have assumed most of the heavy lifting from a ball handling and facilitating standpoint, but created a heap of clean looks for Bryant. Concierge service would have joined his backcourt.

2. Andrew Bynum. If Paul thought playing with Tyson Chandler was the bee's knees, wait until he got a load of Drew, a superior offensive talent in every meaningful way. With probably the softest hands of any seven footer in the league, excellent mobility in space, and a quickly improving mid-range game, Bynum would have represented the best big man with whom Paul had ever teamed. Pairing Paul with Bryant would have garnered the headlines, but the CP3/Bynum combination would have had electric potential.

The move could have been transformative. With Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol gone, Bynum would have naturally assumed a greater role in the offense, and with someone like Paul feeding him, could have truly starred. The sense of ownership for which he's increasingly striving, but has been limited by L.A.'s natural pecking order, likely would have been more a reality. With the Lakers balancing rampant trade specutlation involving Bynum with a $16 million option on him for next season and the question of a long term extension thereafter, the entire context of Bynum's present and future in Los Angeles could have changed.

The possibilities tickled many an imagination. Just not his.

"I didn’t put much thought into it," he says. "Really, my brother put a lot more into it. He was happy about it. I stand by my position: I don’t think you trade the size for the guard, even though Chris Paul is a great player. He’s probably the best point guard in the league right now. That was our uniqueness, our advantage, was the size. Winning these championships. I don’t think you give that away.”

Insight into the mind of Bynum the G.M.. He'll also tell you it makes sense, if you can do it, to flip him for Dwight Howard.

This doesn't appear to be a near-term option, at least as of Tuesday.

Meaning the Lakers will not only go into this season with Bynum in the starting lineup, but depending on him more than ever. This is the year his prodigious talent, frequently on display but never fully featured for any length of time, can't falter. And with Lamar Odom, the Lakers' gold-plated Andrew Bynum Insurance Policy now in Dallas, this must be the season Bynum's body holds up. The guy who has played 35, 50, 65, and 54 games in the last four seasons has to play something near a full slate (in his case, 61 thanks to a five-game suspension in an already shortened season). If he can't, the Lakers are sunk in more ways than one.

First, their chances of competing for a championship are seriously compromised. As a bonus, so are their chances of using Bynum as a chip to help secure a post-Kobe future. So it's, like, really important he stay healthy.

To his credit, Bynum doesn't shy away from the injury questions, or chafe when people call him brittle. "I guess I am injury prone," he said the other day, his tone matter-of-fact. "If you don't play every game, then there's always going to be grounds for people to say that. That's something that I have to work through and prove to people that I can be relied upon to play the majority of the season, if not the whole thing."

There's a strange contradiction playing around town regarding the growing obsession with Howard. The prevailing feeling is if the Lakes somehow "let" Howard get away all is lost, that continuing on with a (for now) healthy Bynum is a wholly inadequate option. At the same time, Bynum is widely seen as the single best player available in a potential trade for Howard. Meaning he's good enough for Orlando to take him in exchange for their franchise player, but not good enough to help the Lakers to a successful season this year.

That doesn't add up.

Or it wouldn't save the sense a new Bynum injury was a "when," not an "if." Maybe this is the year he dodges the bullet. Maybe all the offseason work Bynum put in-- he looks fantastic-- translates into a healthy season. If so, he'll have a chance to change some minds and close the gap between him and Howard.

If not... well, the Lakers would just as soon not have to complete that sentence.