He's a keeper
Slowly but surely, Bynum proving worth with Lakers
Posted: Wednesday November 28, 2007 2:20PM; Updated: Wednesday November 28, 2007 2:38PM
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It took Andrew Bynum 17 years to become a wanted NBA commodity; it took 24 seconds to become a punch line. That's all Kobe Bryant needed to tell a couple of amateur video makers in a shopping center parking lot that the Lakers should "ship out" their young center if it would bring someone such as Jason Kidd in return.
But one month into 2007-08 season, it appears general manager Mitch Kupchak, in refusing to part with Bynum for Kidd at last season's trade deadline, may not have been as incompetent as Bryant suggested he was in the same video.
In his third NBA season, Bynum, who turned 20 in October, is more than holding his own against men a decade older. Following Tuesday's victory against the Sonics, Bynum was averaging 11.1 points on 58.5 percent shooting, 10.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game.
"You don't really know what to do when you hear something like that," Bynum said of Bryant's barbs and being mentioned in trade rumors. "I was in kind of a messed-up situation, being only 19 years old. It makes you feel good that other people want you, but it also makes you feel good that the Lakers didn't pull the trigger.
"I understand [Kobe's comments] were just coming out of frustration, because nobody wants to win more," Bynum added during a telephone interview. "We talked about the situation and everything is buried in the dirt, so everything is cool right now. [But] it motivated me to work hard over the summer with my personal trainer, and right now I'm approaching games with a lot of energy."
That mentality, along with a knee injury to center Kwame Brown, has put Bynum on the floor for 26 minutes a game this season. The path from splinter-gathering rookie (he played a mere 340 minutes his first year) to starting center has been a gradual one for the New Jersey native, who not only had to grow comfortable in the mechanics of how best to manipulate his 7-foot, 275-pound body, but also figure out the mechanics of the game itself.
"Andrew didn't start playing the game [on an organized basis] until he was in high school, and he was hurt in his junior and senior years," said Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bynum's tutor with the Lakers.
"Even if you're playing in grade school, you can become pretty wise about the game from repetition, going out there and playing. It makes a difference in what you know and how you react ... because the game doesn't change that much; it's played by better and more capable players, but the situations don't change. And when you become familiar with those situations and know how to react, it becomes an instinct that better equips you to do well. The only way to develop [those instincts] is to go out and play."
That process isn't always a pretty one, as the Lakers found out in a 102-100 loss to the Nets last Sunday night, when Bynum misread a late-game diagram drawn up by coach Phil Jackson and tried to set a pick for Vladimir Radmanovic to get off a potential game-winning shot instead of the one he was supposed to set for Derek Fisher. Bynum owned up to his mistake, a recognition that came too late against the Nets but something that Abdul-Jabbar believes will quicken in time.
"We've worked a lot on learning to recognize situations," Abdul-Jabbar said. "You have to understand what needs to be done when [an opponent] comes at one point and that, at another point on the court, you have to do something that's a little bit different. You have to be consistent in doing the right thing at the right time."
To that end, Bynum has taken Abdul-Jabbar's advice and spent more time working on the mental aspect of his game, watching videos of opposing big men and cataloguing their go-to moves in a notebook he can reference. He's also tried to learn a few moves himself by watching tapes of his tutor and similarly sized greats of the past, such as Hakeem Olajuwon.
"In high school, I was 7 feet, 300 pounds playing against guys 6-5 and 180," Bynum said. "But in the NBA, everybody is a big boy. The Dream and Kareem dealt with that very well, so I try to pick up things from those guys."
That's quite a leap in responsibility for a player who admitted that learning he had to pay his own bills presented a challenge as a rookie. But it's a step Bynum seems legitimately interested in taking with a coach and a star teammate who have not made his life in the NBA an easy one.
"Phil [Jackson] and Kobe are depending on me to get rebounds, patrol the middle and make it difficult for the other team to get layups," Bynum said. "Every team that has won a championship has had a post presence, and I'm trying to fill that void as we speak."
Whether Bynum can do that, and how quickly that answer becomes clear, will determine not only the fate of this Lakers' season but also future seasons as well. More important, Bynum's development will also decide what, if any, part Bryant has in that fate.
"He's made progress, but he still has a ways to go," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He's willing to work at it and understands he does not know everything. And that's what it takes; he's got to listen and try things he doesn't necessarily know about."
The Lakers have to hope they like what he finds.