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Andrew Bynum’s “two steps up, one step back” dance with maturity continues

Apr 7, 2012, 11:59 AM EDT

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I remember seeing Andrew Bynum as a 17-year-old at Summer League — then held in Long Beach, California — just weeks after being drafted. Two things stuck out to me at those games and interviews:

1) He and his game were so immature. Raw doesn’t even do his game justice. This was raw like sharks eating a seal. His footwook was non-existent as he took little hooks off the wrong foot and got pushed around in the post by the men who had come to earn a spot on an NBA roster. There were flashes of what was to come — his incredible length and potential were evident — but it was going to be a long road.

2) He was confident. He was convinced even then he would be the starting All-Star center one day. Early in his rookie year he said he hoped Kobe Bryant would still be playing at an All-Star level when he got there. He was sure he would grow to be the anchor of the Lakers front line.

Kevin Ding reminded me of this is a fantastic column at the Orange County Register Friday, which touches on the maturation of Bynum.

How does Andrew Bynum now compare to the Andrew Bynum the Lakers have employed the previous six years? The simple answer is that Bynum, 24, is rather the same yet critically better in all the most important ways.

Yes, there’s more edge, impatience and ego. (And those are some of things that swelled in Bryant over the years, no?)… We want it all now. If Bynum can score like a grown man now, he should act like one!

Well, all teams want their star players to be all things, and the reality is none of those guys are going to be. Deal with it, work with it and in some cases even cater to it to keep your star around for a chance to win.

Andrew Bynum’s edge has come out a lot in recent weeks — most recently in a silly ejection in the Lakers Friday night loss to the Rockets. He picked up an early technical and was clearly frustrated with physical play from Samuel Dalembert. The Lakers coaches warned him he had a tech and to keep his cool. But he couldn’t — after one play he jawed at the Rockets bench and the refs hit him with a second technical. He wasn’t there when the Lakers needed him late (his defense really wasn’t there all night, he had taken a mental vacation).

It was stupid — Bynum still puts himself ahead of his teammates. That is frustrating to Lakers fans and coaches, and certainly teammates.

But to suggest (as some have done) that Bynum hasn’t matured is a mistake. First and foremost, his game has matured. He worked hard to fill out his frame, he worked on drop steps, power moves and more until he is a deserving All-Star center. He even can throw in some threes at the end of quarters or the end of meaningless games — just not early in the shot clock in the third quarter of a tight game.

That is the next step in Bynum’s maturation — picking a time and place. There are times he can take a three and the Lakers coaches will not care. There are times to bark at the opposing bench and times to hold it in. Bynum hasn’t got that timing down.

But Bynum has grown up — he is a complex person, not a two-dimensional NBA player. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more avid reader in the league. He is thoughtful. To every game he wears an English Premiere League soccer jersey because he’s a fan. He is not a simple person.

He has matured. But it remains a “two steps up, one step back” process. As it did with me when I was 24, and it probably was with most of you. He just is doing it on a big stage under bright lights, and so we expect him not to make the mistakes we did.

That’s not going to happen. Mistakes will.

But in the end what is the Lakers real option? They have to pick up his option for next year and work to get him to sign a max extension to stay with the Lakers. He is their bridge to the future. Which gives Bynum real leverage in all this. And young people with leverage can be unpredictable.

Deal with it.

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