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Bynum proves that NBA regular season is meaningless

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bynum-lakers-nba_0.jpg By Michael Rosenberg
September 30, 2010

Andrew Bynum and I have two things in common: Neither one of us will be ready for the start of the NBA regular season, and neither one of us is the least bit worried about it.

Bynum, the Lakers' center, is recovering from knee surgery, but the bigger story is that he needed to prepare for knee surgery. He did this by attending the World Cup in July, then scheduling the surgery for when he returned.

Bynum told ESPN that the surgery turned out to be a bigger deal than he expected. But come on: Bynum should always assume his health is worse than he thinks. In the last three seasons, he has played 35, 50 and 65 games. When he orders dinner I expect him to get food poisoning, and when he crosses the street I expect him to break a toe. He has had that kind of injury luck. It would not have surprised me if doctors looked inside his knee and determined he had a separated shoulder.

Bynum's decision is just another pebble in the mountain of evidence that the NBA regular season doesn't mean a whole lot to anybody. When Shaquille O'Neal played for the Lakers, he did pretty much the same thing Bynum did: He put off toe surgery until he had properly enjoyed his summer. Shaq said he got hurt on company time, so he was going to rehab on company time.

Can you imagine an NFL player trying this stunt? OK, fine: Brett Favre. Favre waited until May to have surgery in his ankle, then waited until August to actually return to the Vikings. But Favre is the exception that proves the rule -- what he did was so out of character for the NFL that it stirred heated debate about whether the Vikings were risking their integrity, their souls and the future of the American way by letting Favre do whatever he wanted in the offseason.

I love pro basketball. Really, I do. I not only love the game, which is viscerally thrilling, but I love the league. The NBA knows what it is: competition wrapped up as entertainment.

But in the NBA, everybody understands the regular season is mostly about entertainment, and the postseason is about competition. Teams tank the regular season to get high draft picks far more than they do in any other sport, because the payoff is bigger than in any other sport. (Top NBA picks have the highest rate of success.)

And teams pretty much now that the difference between 54 wins and 60 is not nearly as important as being healthy.

The regular season's lack of importance has a self-fulfilling quality: players know it doesn't matter a whole lot, so they don't take it too seriously, which makes it matter even less. Prominent players, especially the ones who have won a championship, admit that they think some regular season games are more important than others. When the Celtics meet the Bobcats, they will want to win and stay healthy. When the Celtics meet the Heat, they will want to see how they match up. The intensity level is completely different.

Teams can fight this perception about the regular season, but that's a p.r. battle. The Nets and Nuggets have supposedly halted talks on their 14-team, 27-player deal involving Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two No. 1 picks and Jimmy Hoffa's corpse to be found later. They are doing this so they can "focus on the regular season," but they're not kidding anybody. Rumors will follow Anthony everywhere he goes this year, up to and including the rest room.

Andrew Bynum was wrong to put off his knee surgery, but he was right to think he could get away with it. Think about it: All of the regular-season hype is already about storylines. There is far more intrigue about whether Denver will deal 'Melo or New Orleans will deal Chris Paul than there is about who finishes with the best record in the league.

The most intriguing team in the league is of course the Heat -- you just give ESPN some time and they'll start covering those fellas. And yeah, sure, people have wondered if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Two Other Guys can win 70 games. But the Heat's story, for now, is more about entertainment than competition. Will they get along? Can they share the ball? Is it Dwyane's team or LeBron's team? What happens when LeBron returns to Cleveland? (Wild guess: Cavs fans get angry; Heat get a win.)

Come April, it will be fascinating to see if the Heat can win a championship. In the meantime, they are not a competitive entity as much as they are a reality show. So sit back and enjoy it. Just like Andrew Bynum.

•  NBA News Archive Index:
2010, 2009
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