Andrew Bynum had one of his best games of his entire five-year career as a Los Angeles Laker on Sunday.
The question is, was it one of his last games as a Laker?
On the same day a story was published in the New York Post suggesting Los Angeles may be prepared to offer Bynum to the Toronto Raptors in a deal for Chris Bosh, the Lakers' 22-year-old center -- considered to be the cornerstone of the franchise's future -- pumped in 17 points, grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds and had three blocks to lift L.A. to a 95-77 win over Milwaukee.
The contribution couldn't have come at a better time for the Lakers. Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game with a strained left hamstring and three other Los Angeles starters all chose the same night to have one of their worst offensive nights of the season -- Kobe Bryant scored 12 on 4-for-21 shooting, Lamar Odom finished with five on 1-for-4 shooting and Ron Artest scored just two on 1-for-2 shooting.
Bynum outscored the whole Bucks team 12-8 in the first quarter. It seemed like he was out to make a statement from the start, single-handedly scoring the Lakers' first five field goals and displaying his full repertoire by splashing a couple of midrange jumpers, crashing the boards for a putback layup and rising up to throw down an alley-oop and a putback slam.
But Bynum says there wasn't any extra motivation.
"What rumor is that?" Bynum asked when he was questioned if the trade speculation had sparked him to play the way he did on Sunday.
When he was told it was for Bosh, a four-time All-Star and Olympic gold-medal-winning teammate of Bryant, he replied with his patented phrase:
"Oh, that's crazy."
Is it that crazy?
The Post story quotes Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo as "not seeking a deal or discussing Bosh with any team, much less the Lakers," but wouldn't it be crazier for Toronto to wait around and hope that Bosh doesn't opt out of the final year of his contract this summer instead of shipping him for a sure thing before the Feb. 18 trade deadline?
"I don't even care," Bynum said. "I love playing basketball. I'll play this game anywhere. It's not the first time that it's happened to me, so I'm used to it."
Lakers head coach Phil Jackson called Bynum the "dominant big guy" on Sunday, and he was. It was his third straight double-double after going on a 23-game drought without accomplishing the feat.
It's no coincidence that Bynum's double-doubleless streak started as soon as Gasol returned to the lineup after missing the first 11 games of the season with an injury to his right hamstring.
But can he be dominant with Gasol out there? Can he coexist and consistently contribute? Bryant said there is a "pecking order" when it comes to offensive opportunities, indicating he and Gasol "get theirs" before Bynum is allowed his piece of the pie.
There are plenty of chances for Bynum to create his own touches through deflections, good positioning and putbacks. The coaching staff has implored him to get in the flow of the game through defense and energy, and to think of his offense as a byproduct of that effort. But Bynum sometimes struggles to get his engine started until plays are run for him on the block.
A Bosh trade may be nothing more than a rumor, but one Western Conference scout said Sunday it was an intriguing possibility: "It makes them better if they can make that trade obviously. Bosh will bring another element to the team. They can run the same offense, it's not going to change the way that they play things."
The scout said the Lakers would be giving up some size on the defensive end, but considering Bynum's inconsistent activation on defense they might not be missing as much as it seems.
"Bynum is obviously big, but Bosh is not small, it's not like he's a small guy [...] any time you can add a top-15 player in the league, it's a good trade."
Still, there are parts of the trade that don't seem to make sense.
1. Why would the Lakers trade for another power forward when they just signed Gasol, a top-five power forward in the game right now, to an extension?
2. With the Lakers already owing $21,430,778 in luxury tax this season, why would they pursue Bosh, who is a player capable of fetching a max deal this summer on the open market, meaning that tax figure would balloon if they re-signed him?
3. What happens if Bosh leaves? Is it worth giving up a young player who is steadily improving, who knows the system and is locked into a relatively affordable four-year/$57.4 million deal, to rent Bosh for 40 games plus a playoff run?
4. Why make a go-for-broke move when L.A. won the championship last year with a roster that included Bynum?
If Gasol's hamstring turns out to be a lingering problem or if Ron Artest's head injury causes him to miss time again (he asked to come out of the game twice on Sunday after knocking noggins with Michael Redd), Bosh is certainly more valuable than Bynum in the short term.
But Bynum is a building block for the team's future.
And for his part, Bryant was impressed Sunday with what he saw in the here and now.
"[He's] accepting the challenge of Pau being out," Bryant said. "He knows that we need more from him so he's stepping up and contributing."
When asked if there was any indication in Bynum's pregame behavior that the 7-footer was on the brink of a breakout game, he said, "No, the kid's like Tim Duncan."
He was comparing the two in demeanor, of course. But he also might have been hinting at what he expects, what the Lakers need, the kid to become.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com