Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few days, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the benching of Andrew Bynum. For the uninitiated, Bynum decided to take a 3 pointer with 16 seconds on the shot clock of a close game, a move that could only be described as boneheaded and absolutely deserving of its punishment. It was lucky to hit the rim. Within seconds, head coach Mike Brown had burned a timeout to angrily pull Bynum and left him out for most of the rest of the game.
For a guy accused of being spineless with LeBron James while coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is something I always blamed more on owner Dan Gilbert, Mike Brown has sure asserted himself this week with 4th quarter benchings of both his All-Stars. Postgame, he said, “if I don’t feel like he’s playing the right way, I’ll take him out of the game.” It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Mike Brown is trying to publicly separate himself from the dynamic he had with LeBron, but it also seems like he’s failed to take the direct route with his players by holding them accountable in private. An honest conversation with Kobe or Andrew could go a long way in terms of influencing their shot selection or defense without the public drama created by a benching. Remember Mike, this is why Mike “The Pringles Man” D’Antoni is out in New York, so man up.
For the record, I was fine with Kobe’s benching as well. Kobe’s shot selection was abysmal, but his complete lack of effort on defense was what got him pulled (although Bynum needed to be yanked for the same reason). However, how they reacted was totally different. Kobe refused to make it a media issue and pretty much killed the story, instead responding by playing much with focus and nailing two clutch jumpers to win the next game. Bynum? He was seen alternating between sulking and laughing on the bench afterwards. Post-game, he, of one career 3-point field goal, said, “I don’t know what was bench worthy about the shot, to be honest with you. I guess don’t take 3s is the message. But I’m going to take some more. I just hope it’s not the same result. I hope I make it.”
I’m always liberal with my commentary of the Lakers, often scolding Kobe when his shot selection goes rogue or yelling when Pau Gasol refuses to dunk the damn ball, but I almost lost it last night. Talking to KOBEshigawa, we both were dangerously close to actually throwing things at our television when Bynum decided to test the patience of Laker Nation. It wouldn’t be Andrew Bynum if he didn’t manage to shoot himself in the foot with his immaturity and make us question his progress towards being a true franchise guy. After all, the trade deadline just passed and we refused to entertain trade offers for this guy for good reason, right? Although I’ve always had a soft spot for Bynum, I’m starting to wonder if the kid has what it takes to take over after Kobe fades into the sunset.
|Andrew Bynum Career Statistics|
First of all, you have to give Bynum credit for his steady progression as he has continued to expand his game and grow as a player from year to year. The last two years, he’s been a top-3 center in Player Efficiency Rating and gobbled up rebounds with the best of them, but he’s the rare player who has managed to maintain that per-minute efficiency with a much expanded role, double teams, and more minutes. He’s averaging at or near career highs for PER, field goal percentage, points, blocks, and rebounds. Dude was a legit choice for starting center on the West and is playing so well this year that the Magic had to have thought twice about a Bynum-Howard swap behind closed doors.
While maintaining his defensive intensity and getting even hungrier on the boards, he’s worked relentlessly on his expansive offensive repertoire. He has impeccable footwork in the post and a variety of nearly unguardable post moves that Dwight Howard has never developed. This season, he’s even added a 10-15 foot face up jump shot that has been pretty effective. Although he’s still had a few of those frustrating 3-4 rebound games where he lacked intensity, his focus has been much better overall this season. You get the feeling though, that this three pointer is Andrew Bynum’s misguided attempt at stretching his legs and asserting his place on the team. There’s no doubt his skill set has outgrown his role. He seems to sense that his time is coming and doesn’t know how to gracefully make that transition, something this Lakers team experienced over a decade ago with another precocious young player right out of high school, Kobe Bean Bryant.
So it’s fair to ask, is this Kobe-Shaq Part II? Recent shot selection aside, Kobe has held serve far better in his 16th season than anyone saw coming. While quietly at the top of the league in minutes played while playing through a torn tendon in his wrist, Kobe has played the 2 guard as well as anyone this year and merits serious MVP consideration. But it’s also clear that he can’t do this forever and despite his tough words prior to the season, the smart money is on this being a less painful transition than last time around. Part of it may be age, but Kobe has embraced Bynum far better than Shaq did Bryant. Against Boston a few weeks ago, Kobe called the play to hit Bynum in the post, who delivered with the game winner. It seemed like his moment. With Kobe on the bench against Memphis, the Lakers successfully went to Bynum in the post again and again, they just didn’t play enough defense on the other end and weren’t able to get back into it. There’s no doubt the kid has the skill set and has shown the kind of on-court dominance he needs to be the franchise guy.
It just feels like Bynum was anointed too early, before he earned the kind of confidence he’s received in spades. As is common with prodigiously talented young big men, he got a max contract based on potential and brief flashes of brilliance. He’s always enjoyed being the favorite of the owner’s son, Jim Buss, who now regularly makes the basketball decisions of consequence. Bynum asked for Kareem, he got Kareem, and he has also enjoyed being untouchable at the trade deadline for the last few years. I just wish he took that role more seriously and embraced all that it entails. Kobe has earned the right to freelance far more than Andrew has, but you can see the same kinds of selfish impulses from both of them at times. That’s why you need the kind of steady voices like Pau and D-Fish in the Lakers locker room. Neither Kobe nor Bynum is consistently the outspoken or selfless leader that Magic was for example.
By all accounts, Bynum is incredibly intelligent, someone who would have attended a top college and studied engineering if he wasn’t in the league. He’s the biggest reader on the team. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between intelligence and maturity. Bynum has always shown swings in effort and lapses in focus, and this year is no exception. He famously carried a Playboy bunny around on his shoulders mere weeks after knee surgery. I’ve never heard anyone compliment him on his locker room demeanor. Furthermore, his ego is renowned for being fragile, something I heard many commentators mention as a possible consequence of his benching (something no one mentioned about Kobe, for the record). Even more damning, he keeps doing stupid things while managing to sound remorseless in the postgame comments, the three pointer being far from the worst. From collapsing Gerald Wallace’s lung to nearly killing J.J. Barea, he’s developed a reputation as a violent player and missed the first 4 games of this season as a result.
Although the future is far from unwritten, it’s disheartening that you already get the sense that Kobe-Bynum could underachieve its nearly unlimited potential. In a league full of alpha dogs, the Kobe-Shaq mold of pride getting in the way is far more common than the Jordan-Pippen formula, which succeeded based on the strength of its clear hierarchy. It’s never easy for the world’s greatest to accept that their time has passed, nor is youth generally gracious as they take the reins from the old guard. As someone that bleeds purple and yellow, nothing would make me happier than Andrew Bynum realizing his error and planting his butt in the post for the rest of the season. Now that Ramon Sessions is in tow, this Lakers squad will only have itself to blame if they fail to put their personal agendas aside in pursuit of a championship.