EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – In recent years, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum – when healthy – have given the Los Angeles Lakers the NBA's most intimidating big-man tandem, a rare combination of 7-footers who can play together and provide a sizeable matchup advantage against opponents. And yet as the start of the 2011-12 season nears, Gasol and Bynum now find themselves eclipsed by the shadow of another giant: Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic's All-Star center.
Gasol was nearly traded this month for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, and the Lakers engaged the Magic in talks for Howard that would have likely cost them Bynum and/or Gasol. The Magic tabled the conversations, but as long as Howard continues to list the Lakers as one of his preferred destinations and refuses to sign an extension to stay in Orlando, neither Bynum nor Gasol can be certain they'll remain in L.A. for the duration of this season.
It's a delicate situation, given that the Lakers might need to rely on Bynum and Gasol more than ever with Kobe Bryant beginning the season with an injured right wrist and Lamar Odom having already been sent to the rival Dallas Mavericks.
"It's not up to me," Gasol said. "I might be involved. There might be someone else that might be involved. But I know this, if there is a right opportunity for this franchise to get better in different ways, I might be leaving.”
Or, as Bynum said: "As of right now, things may still be going on. But I'm coming in and working hard every day. They appreciate that. At the end of the day if anything happens, I'll be happy wherever I am."
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Gasol has already thought once this month he'd been traded. The Lakers agreed to send him to the Houston Rockets in a three-team deal that would have brought Paul to L.A. and sent Odom to the New Orleans Hornets. NBA commissioner David Stern, however, had other ideas and vetoed the trade, citing "basketball reasons" for the decision and demanding the Hornets receive younger players and better draft picks in return for Paul. Paul was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, and Odom, upset over how the Lakers handled the deal, told team officials he wanted out. The Lakers quickly sent him to the Mavs for a first-round draft pick and an $8.9 million trade exception that could be used to facilitate a future deal.
Gasol also was frustrated when his name first surfaced in the trade talks. He learned he was headed to Houston from a reporter who stopped him in his car as he left the Lakers' training facility that day.
"At that point, it was three or four days after [the talks] started," Gasol said. "I was much calmer and much readier to face anything.”
Bynum never understood why the Lakers would be willing to trade both Gasol and the 6-foot-11 Odom for Paul.
"To be honest with you, trade size for the guard? Even though Chris Paul is a great player and the best point guard in the league right now, that was a uniqueness to our advantage with our size," Bynum said. "We've won championships. I don't think you want to give that away."
Neither Gasol nor Bynum has received any assurances from Lakers management they won't be traded this season.
"I've obviously gained some peace, some balance," Gasol said. "But I don't have it all with me. I am going to do what I can to do my best as long as I can and continue be the player I’ve always been."
Bynum isn't fretting his own future.
"You can't take it personal because it's not," he said. "They are not trading you because they don't like you. It's because they think they can make the team better, and that's their job in the front office. All I'm supposed to do is come in and play."
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