Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bynum, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (4.6.12)

Bynum ejected vs the Rockets. Again!
(Courtesy Fox Sports West Prime Ticket, NBA)
Andrew Bynum's career has always seemed to be like a Tomb Raider puzzle that can only be cracked by taking one step forward and two steps back. It seems like every time Bynum makes progress, he follows it with regression.

Remember the 07/08 season? That was Bynum's third year in the league and he was starting to come into his own. He averaged a double double that season, with 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Add in his 2.1 blocks and .636 field goal percentage and it was clear, Bynum was becoming a force. Do you remember how Bynum ended that season? Bynum dislocated his left kneecap as he landed awkwardly on Lamar Odom's foot while going for a rebound. The Lakers were 26-11 at that point due to Bynum's awesome breakout year. Just two weeks later the Lakers pulled off the trade for Pau Gasol. Pau was great, but the lack of Bynum's physical presence cost the Lakers a championship against the Boston Celtics.

With that in mind, guess what happened in 08/09? In a game that I attended, Bynum set his career high with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks against the Clippers. Bynum looked great and well on his way to becoming the breakout star that he showed glimpses of the previous season. But of course it didn't last. Once again, almost exactly a year later and against the same opponent, Bynum sprained his right knee as Kobe fell into him while going for a layup. It was later confirmed that he tore his ACL. Bynum came back late in the season, but he was never the same. Pau Gasol came up huge in the finals as he was able to check Dwight Howard. The Lakers won the championship, but Bynum only played 17 minutes a game during that postseason.

Bynum followed up that campaign with a solid 09/10 season. Bynum averaged 15.0 points, and 8.3 rebounds, with .570 percent shooting per game. Bynum stayed healthy the entire regular season. Then came the first round and Bynum tore his meniscus against the Thunder in game 6 of the first round. Bynum fought through the pain and continued playing for the rest of the playoffs with a knee brace. However, his numbers considerably dipped. His minutes went from 30.4 in the regular season to 24.4. His points and boards slipped to 8.6 and 6.9. Obviously the injury impacted him, but this time the Celtics lost their big man, Kendrick Perkins, and the Lakers were able to overcome them in a huge game 7 victory to win back to back championships.

Following the championship, Bynum attended the World Cup in South Africa and enjoyed a personal vacation. Due to his delay on the surgery, Bynum ended up missing the first two months of the regular season in 10/11. Bynum gave the Lakers an advance notice of his knee complications just hours before training camp began instead of weeks in advance. Bynum played his worst statistical season since his second year, regressing to just 11.3 points and 9.4 boards on .574 shooting. Bynum also foreshadowed his penchant for cheap shots by absolutely destroying Michael Beasley with a forearm flagrant that sent Beasley flying. Bynum upped his numbers in the playoffs with 14.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and .543 shooting, but he will be remembered for his dirty flagrant foul on J.J. Barea. Bynum clocked the diminutive Barea with a forearm to the exposed ribs of Barea as the Lakers were getting blown out in the deciding game of the series sweep.

One step forward, two steps back. Lakers fans will always wonder, "When is Andrew Bynum going to get hurt?" Bynum has been relatively healthy this season and he has definitely improved his game. It could be said that Bynum has taken multiple steps forward this year. Drew made his first All-Star Game this year and is averaging a double double with 18.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and .583 field goal percentage. This is absolutely Bynum's breakout year. He hasn't suffered a considerable injury (sprained ankles are common), and he is now a star on the team. With Lamar Odom out of town, Drew is more important to the Lakers than he has ever been. If Bynum doesn't play well, the Lakers don't win ballgames, plain and simple. The Lakers depend on their big 3 of Kobe, Pau, and Drew more than any other team in the league. Ramon Sessions has provided a nice spark, but it's still all about the big 3.

Now the question surrounding Drew regards his mental health. Although Bynum's play has been near dominant at times, his erratic behavior has been disappointing. Bynum has made numerous questionable decisions this season. His 3 point attempt against the Golden State Warriors definitely raised some eyebrows, but it was his lack of maturity following that play that really caught the attention of the Lakers brass. Bynum was fined by the organization for his continued immature behavior. Bynum skipped meetings, didn't join the team in huddles, warmed up on his own, vowed to take more 3 pointers, and just seemed to show a total lack of regard for the team's well being.

Fast forward to tonight's game against the Houston Rockets. Entering the fourth quarter, Bynum continually used his height and weight to his advantage. Bynum had 19 points on 6-11 shooting with 7 rebounds. However, Bynum just wasn't all there tonight. Bynum had 5 turnovers and he seemed more interested in talking smack against his opponents than punishing them with his play. The Rockets do not have a single person that can stop Bynum. Samuel Dalembert is decent, but Bynum can manhandle him. Unfortunately, Bynum let the Rockets get into his head. With just over a minute to go in the third quarter, Bynum took a rather innocent foul from Dalembert. Bynum blew by Dalembert on the near block and went up for the layup. Dalembert came from behind and tried to make a play on the ball and he fouled Bynum. The attempted block was a good basketball play, nothing like Bynum's previous transgressions, however Bynum took offense to the play and began talking smack to Dalembert and he had to be restrained by his teammates. Bynum lost his cool for no apparent reason and was given a technical foul by the referees. There was nothing dirty about the play. The Lakers headed into the fourth down 84-81. Just minutes after his last technical, Bynum got another one. On the first offensive play of the quarter, Bynum made a nice move on the far block as he spun baseline and finished with a lefty hook. Knowing he had a technical, Bynum began to yap his mouth at the Rockets bench right after the bucket. Bynum taunted the Rockets as he jogged back down the floor and he was immediately assigned his second technical foul. Two technicals yielded him an ejection from the game. Bynum knew that he had a technical in the first place. His decision to so blatantly taunt the Rockets was unacceptable. The Lakers ended up finishing the quarter with 7-25 shooting as they lost 112-107. Even more bizarre is the fact that Bynum cost the Lakers a win against the Rockets just two weeks ago for the same exact reason. He was ejected late in the third quarter of that game and the Lakers were pounded on the glass during that final period, losing 107-104. Bynum obviously didn't learn his lesson that game.

Andrew Bynum needs to grow up. His immaturity is beginning to become alarming. Gone are the days of Kobe in the absolute prime of his career and Lamar Odom being the sixth man of the year. The Lakers need Andrew Bynum to be on the court making big plays. For all of his talent, Bynum's attitude is beginning to overshadow him. To open the post game press conference, Mike Brown brought up the Lakers lack of defensive mentality and weak side help. These may have been veiled shots at Bynum's defensive rotations, but they are also true to the Lakers as a whole. He then mentioned that the Lakers seem more interested in outscoring teams, and that in order for the Lakers to win, they need to get back to their solid defensive efforts. Once done with the opening statement, Brown was questioned about Bynum for the next several minutes. Brown stated, "We talked to him when he went back out there at the start of the quarter and we told him, 'Hey you have one technical, don't pick up your second.'" Brown continued, "Yeah, I'm disappointed because we told him, 'You got one technical, don't pick up your second,' you know, and he acknowledged us and he went out there and picked up his second when I thought he could have helped us win the ballgame." Mike Brown essentially called Bynum out right there. Brown let everyone know that Bynum was aware of the situation and that he decided to make the wrong decision just moments after that discussion. Brown continued, "Watching that tonight was concerning, from the standpoint that again, we discussed it right before he went out there, and he acknowledged us, and it happened anyway, and when you have that, that is concerning." Brown's use of the word "concerning" is alarming. It indicates a lack of trust. It shows just how much Andrew Bynum needs to grow. Bynum needs to be a reliable presence on this Lakers team for them to be able to do anything this year.

Bynum's actions are reminiscent of a teenager rebelling against his parents. However, Bynum is not a teenager, he is a multimillionaire athlete that gets paid to play the game of basketball. For Bynum to directly acknowledge the situation, to indicate his understanding, it just strikes me as an act of rebellion. What else can explain it? The moment was baffling. Bynum was caught so red handed. Why not let your play do the talking for you? Get the win, and let them know how unstoppable you are. Instead, Bynum's histrionics got him thrown out. The moment was actually comical to the Rockets bench, as Marcus Camby and others just waved goodbye to Bynum. Brown later stated, "He left his teammates out there [...] It's not right." Think about Kobe Bryant. Kobe plays through everything. Tonight he played with a sore shin. Imagine how much pain there must be every time Kobe jumps and lands on the ground. Just running can be a pain with a bad shin. For Kobe to come out and suit up and then watch his big man get ejected in the critical fourth quarter, he must feel cheated. Bynum cost the Lakers another win with his complete disregard for his own team and the standards of basketball. Even more baffling is the fact that this came right after the most impressive game of his career. One game after dismantling the Clippers with an arsenal of moves that no other center, not even Dwight Howard, can pull off, Bynum followed it with a stupid fourth quarter ejection.

One step forward, two steps back. The story of Andrew Bynum. Unlike Lara Croft, this puzzle doesn't get solved by moving backward. Andrew needs to get his act together and be more professional. Bynum will be due for a huge payday soon. He is going to make $16 million next season, but after that he will be a free agent. If Bynum continues this trend of bizarre behavior, will the Lakers be so willing to dish out $20 million plus for the troubled star? Such an investment could prove quite worthy, or absolutely disastrous. Hopefully it's the former and Drew begins to only move forward.

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