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Five years in, we still don't have a lock on Andrew Bynum

Sep 25, 2010, 12:00 PM EDT

We need divisive figures in the NBA. There are so many players that simply are what they are. Lou Amundson, for example. Tim Duncan. Andrei Kirilenko. It’s those other players that make debates fun, and Andrew Bynum is certainly one of them.

We’re entering our sixth season of Bynumite, and we still have little way to determine exactly who he is in the landscape of the NBA. News came out this week that Bynum will likely not be around for the start of the season, meaning he’s missing an expected recovery goal… again. Bynum missed about seven recovery dates in 2008, with a January injury leading to an expected return date of mid-March, to late April, to mid-May, to “eventually.” He returned the next season, and everything was on track again for him to dominate as he’s been expected to for years. Then another injury, followed by missed deadlines, in-between Playboy bunny hoisting events.

Bynum has been criticized consistently since he started to burst on the scene, and for every person to salivate over his size, athleticism and freakish arms, there’s been someone to question his work ethic. Like, oh, say, Tex Winters. So when Bynum suffered yet another knee injury late last year, everyone kind of rolled their eyes, shrugged, and asked what else was on. But then a funny thing happened. He battled through the playoffs and the Finals, dragging that leg around. He was a huge part of the early bursts the Lakers often got out to, and his ability to create mismatches lead to other Lakers having more rest and being able to finish games strong. He was brave, having put his body on the line like that.

So maybe this was a new Bynum!

Or… not. Bynum pushed back surgery so that he could attend the World Cup and a European vacation (with Clark W. Griswold) unencumbered. Phil Jackson said it doesn’t matter if Bynum is ready for the season opener, it matters if he’s ready for April or May. And he most likely will be. This doesn’t have to do with whether Bynum can help the Lakers, he obviously can, he has. It’s a question of whether or not he is what he’s proclaimed to be.

There were discussions headed into that first, injury-destroyed season, of whether Bynum would become the best big man in the NBA. Better than Yao. Better than Dwight Howard. But what no one ever stopped to consider amidst the tremendous length and towering frame, was if Bynum has the work ethic to get there. Our esteemed Blogger-in-Chief Kurt Helin thinks that Bynum’s just a slow-healer. Well there’s slow-healing, and there’s lazy rehabbing, and they’re not the same. If a player wants to get back, we’ve seen them get there. We’ve seen the effort to do what it takes to get back in shape. Yao Ming does it time and time again and has to be restrained from getting on the floor.

Bynum by contrast has pretty much shown a reticence to commit to the process, including sloughing off the Lakers doctors for his own. That’s not that bad of an idea, the Lakers’s staff isn’t exactly put on par with Phoenix’s. But it’s the way in which he went about it, which consistently resonates a reluctance to put the work in.

The next comment that arises is whether he’s just young. After all, Bynum will only turn 23 this season. There’s still plenty of time for him to mature and gain that work ethic we all hope he could have. But this is his sixth season upcoming. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not like a whole lot of personal growth goes on when you shuffle from game to club to hotel to bus to plane to game to club, etc. When exactly is he going to develop into the hard-worker he needs to be to reach the plane his talents would put him at?

This is without talking about Dwight Howard and the fact that every single season, despite already being by far the best center in the NBA, Howard improves. He hasn’t had to deal with significant injury setbacks, but he definitely has put the work in to become a better player each season. Yet we tear down Howard for his lack of a post-game and say “just wait till Bynum develops!”

This isn’t about whether Andrew Bynum is a good player. He is. He’s tall, long, has great touch, tremendous athleticism and is generally a freak of nature. It’s not even really about whether he’s tough. He did drag around that leg through the Finals to help the Lakers reach the summit yet again. It’s about whether we really think he’s going to get to that level we all want to put him on, that top tier of players, the kind of dominant force he’s been predicted to be for years.

Short answer: maybe it’s time we see the work put in before we place the wreath this time. Bynum doesn’t have to work his tail off to be ready for the season opener to be a significant role player on the Lakers. He has to improve his work ethic to be the player the Lakers paid him to be.

  1. Jimmy Florentz - Sep 25, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    I miss the NBA on NBC. Please bring it back!

  2. the shark - Sep 25, 2010 at 11:45 PM

    He needs to get his lazy but back into rehab. Living in LA too dam long. He’s making 13 mil this year. Don’t look like he’s into it these days. Just Luke Walton. Soon as he sign that big contract, they get lazy. Eating 50 buck stakes instead of hamburger. These guys get too relax when they get paid big.

  3. Walter - Sep 26, 2010 at 12:32 AM

    Andrew Bynum is lazy? I guess I see your point. I mean, he is so lazy he went from being a pudgy high school player whose own coach disparaged in terms of skill level, to the point that said high school coach questioned why he was even a lottery pick, to being one of the best young big men in the NBA, with his development being one of the key reasons why the 2008 Lakers were leading the Western Conference prior to a Grizzly defender crashing into his knee prematurely ended his season. He is so lazy, he spent a considerable amount of time after practice in his first few seasons working one on one with Kareem Abdul Jabbar to work on his post game, especially his footwork. (How many post moves has Howard developed over the years, working with Patrick Ewing? Oh yeah, none.) He is so lazy, he hired a chef and a nutritionist to improve his diet and conditioning. He is so lazy, he has on three separate occasions come back from devastating knee injuries to be an integral contributor to two championship teams. Watch out Eddie Curry, the NBA has a new sloth king looking to take your La-Z-Boy thrown.

  4. Walter - Sep 26, 2010 at 12:33 AM

    Andrew Bynum is lazy? I guess I see your point. I mean, he is so lazy he went from being a pudgy high school player whose own coach disparaged in terms of skill level, to the point that said high school coach questioned why he was even a lottery pick, to being one of the best young big men in the NBA, with his development being one of the key reasons why the 2008 Lakers were leading the Western Conference prior to a Grizzly defender crashing into his knee prematurely ended his season. He is so lazy, he spent a considerable amount of time after practice in his first few seasons working one on one with Kareem Abdul Jabbar to work on his post game, especially his footwork. (How many post moves has Howard developed over the years, working with Patrick Ewing? Oh yeah, none.) He is so lazy, he hired a chef and a nutritionist to improve his diet and conditioning. He is so lazy, he has on three separate occasions come back from devastating knee injuries to be an integral contributor to two championship teams. Watch out Eddie Curry, the NBA has a new sloth king looking to take your La-Z-Boy thrown.

  5. Walter - Sep 26, 2010 at 12:39 AM

    Ugh, stupid server. Sorry about the double post. I kept getting error messages.

  6. Omnius - Sep 26, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    Poor Andrew Bynum, he’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA – he gets no respect. I think that much ado about nothing is being made of Bynum’s slow recovery process, like this article by Matt Moore. Some people heal slower than others so lets’ not get all uppity about Bynum being late to the regular season party. We can only speculate how good Bynum could be since he’s always getting injured, heck one of his bad injuries was from Kobe running into him. I say the Lakers don’t play Bynum in Memphis since he seems to be unlucky there in late January or February. Anyway let’s give Andrew a chance to prove himself and us Laker fans will be hoping he shows up healthy for the playoffs. Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player in the world and the Repeat World Champion Lakers will Threepeat next June!

  7. Tony - Sep 26, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    At the end of the day, Bynum is the starting center on a championship team that already has a top scoring PF. He can afford to cut corners a bit. He’ll get better gradually, but there is no need for him to be a dominant center; in fact, it may make the team worse considering he will always be the #3 scorer at best on the lakers. If Bynum can develop into a defensive nuisance and average close to a double double, he’ll be a great success in LA.

  8. Drew - Sep 26, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    There’s a difference between average person laziness and professional athlete laziness. By NBA player standards, Bynum appears lazy. Look at Kobe Bryant’s training regimen. Karl Malone. John Stockton. Michael Jordan. Those guys took serious pride in their strength and conditioning. Sure, injuries do happen and sometimes no amount of conditioning can prevent an injury from happening, but over five seasons with repeated injuries, prolonged rehabs, and changed dates you have to question Bynum’s work ethic. When you’re on a championship contender, your work ethic is paramount.
    Will it affect the Lakers come May-June? Maybe. Maybe not. But, it certainly doesn’t help them.

  9. john shaner - Sep 26, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    Laker fans arn’t worried so why should you be.

  10. Seely_Iggy - Sep 27, 2010 at 3:58 AM

    Bynum is coming back later than expected because they underestimated the extent of his knee injury. It was supposed to be a simple procedure of removing some of the cartillage, but his doctor realized that the injury was more extensive because Bynum continued to play in the playoffs instead of resting or going for immediate surgery. So instead of just removing the cartillage, the doctor sew back the tears which means a slower recovery but also makes the knee stronger in the long run. So give Bynum a freakin’ break. I’d rather have his knee hold up through the rest of the reason than risk having him injured again close to the playoffs.

  11. Thomas - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Who are you, to talk about what bynum is to the Lakers. name 4 centers you would take over Bynum right now!

  12. Thomas - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    Who are you, to talk about what bynum is to the Lakers. name 4 centers you would take over Bynum right now!

  13. Chogo - Sep 28, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    Bynum is what he is. Not a dominant superstar, but good role player. Period. Kind of like Bill Cartwright for Bulls years ago, just gives you 10 and 10, and closes the lane on defense. Important role, but not the killer beast that they hoped with his incredible size and length.

  14. Chris - Oct 5, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    I don’t remember Cartwright ever having the ability to put up 40 points and 15 rebounds, but okay.

  15. Chris - Oct 5, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    I don’t remember Cartwright ever having the ability to put up 40 points and 15 rebounds, but okay.

  16. Chris - Oct 5, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    I don’t remember Cartwright ever having the ability to put up 40 points and 15 rebounds, but okay.

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