The Lakers would not include Bynum in a deadline deal for Jason Kidd.
John W. McDonough/SI
For the second season in a row Kobe Bryant led the NBA in scoring after the All-Star break, averaging 36.7 points in that time. That's the highest average since the league began tracking the stat in 1990-91.
Record: 42-40 (7th in West) Points scored: 103.3 (5th in NBA) Points allowed: 103.4 (25th) Coach: Phil Jackson (third season
Will their young center mature into the Kobe-approved player he needs to be?
Center Andrew Bynum received one important stamp of approval during training camp. Pete Newell, the ultimate big-man guru, praised the way the 7-footer played at the beginning of last season and said that Bynum's performance tailed off only because of withering criticism from Kobe Bryant. "I think he was a little confused at the end because he was catching a little hell from Kobe," Newell told the Los Angeles Times. "They've got to make it clear to Kobe that he's not the coach and he should be positive, not negative, when [Bynum] makes the mistakes that he made."
Bryant has since professed support of Bynum, albeit in a vanilla manner, but his harsh words last season -- he was also caught on video in May ripping Bynum to two college students -- no doubt remain in the head of the impressionable Bynum, who just turned 20.
The criticism was not all unfounded, though. The conditioning and work ethic of the mild-mannered Bynum, who was drafted four months before his 18th birthday, has been questioned by others besides Bryant, including coach Phil Jackson. But Bynum, entering his third year, says he spent considerable time in the weight room and on the track this off-season and feels stronger and "better able to hold my ground in the post."
One presumes that he will hold his ground, too, in the battle for a starting position, if one can call anything that involves Kwame Brown a battle. Chris Mihm, back from right ankle surgery that caused him to miss last season, has joined the fray, but Bynum has more upside to his game.
No matter how well Bynum plays, though, trade rumors likely will dog him. Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal has expressed a desire to play in L.A. So have many others -- with the notable exception of Bynum's most important critic, the teammate whose demanding standards he has to meet.
-- Jack McCallum