It’s not so easy being The Man, is it, Andrew Bynum?
The Lakers have been kind of a mess for the last couple of weeks. They’ve been playing sloppy, sluggish basketball, losing leads and generating silly, distracting drama that fills up the headlines. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
The ringleader of this circus has been Andrew Bynum, who has picked the last two weeks to basically act like an entitled brat. I think he has been reading too much of his own press and thinks he should be getting much more of the spotlight and credit for the Lakers' success this season.
There is no question that his game has improved and he is enormously important to the team. But then he goes and undermines his case by lolly-gagging on transition defense, missing free throws, sitting out huddles when he was sidelined with an ankle sprain and worst of all, picking up a second technical foul in the game against Houston and getting tossed.
In my opinion, the Lakers' loss in that game is directly attributable to Bynum getting ejected. Without his firepower and a very hobbled Kobe, Houston smelled blood and went in for the kill. Getting that second technical foul was completely avoidable. The coaches said that they reminded Bynum just prior to picking it up to be careful and not do anything hot-headed. Sure enough, he starts jawing at the Houston bench. Immediate ejection. Hope you enjoyed the early shower Drew.
Sigh. Sometimes, it feels to me like Bynum is a teenager trying to test the limits of his parents’ authority. The part of mom and dad in this case is being played by the Lakers' coaching staff and front office. Bynum actually blew off a meeting with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak! That is rank insubordination in my view. What Bynum doesn’t realize is that there is a lot more to being the leader of the team than scoring points and blocking shots in the post.
So along comes Saturday and a game against the Suns. And to the shock of everyone in Lakerland, Kobe Bryant sits out the game with a shin injury. I could barely believe my ears when the announcers for the game gave the update just prior to tip off. (To remind you, Kobe has played this year through a ligament injury (in his shooting hand), a broken nose and now he’s sidelined with a shin injury?! We’ll come back to this in a minute.)
You want to show you can carry this team Drew? Here is your purple and golden opportunity.
I’ll just leave it at Drew’s 10-for-27 shooting and 3-for-9 free-throw stats to speak for themselves. To say nothing of dogging it on transition defense. There were way too many instances when the other four Lakers had sprinted back up the court and Bynum was trotting back with no sense of urgency at all. Ramon Sessions would just stand there dribbling with the body language of “Really? This is your effort? Really?”
The Lakers lost to a Phoenix team they should have beaten. Wait, lost is too polite. I’d go with: Phoenix torched them to the tune of 125-105. That was not what I expect to see from a team that is looking to go deep into the playoffs.
Anyway, back to Kobe’s shin. Next game up is against New Orleans. Mamba sits that one out too. All Lakers fans are growing increasingly nervous. Mamba knows his body better than anyone else; if he can’t go, he can’t go. And it’s really just idle speculation whether that is because the pain is too intense, or because he and the staff have made a decision that it’s better to sit and continue to heal and avoid aggravating the injury further. Far and away the most important thing is to be healthy and ready for the playoffs.
The unintended byproduct of this decision was amazing as it somehow drove home the message that analysts, columnists and fans have been making over and over again all season: The rest of the team has to pull their weight every night and stop taking for granted that Kobe is going to play hero ball in the last few minutes to save them from three-and-a-half quarters of sloppy basketball.
It was actually kind of inspiring to watch. I think it made the point loud and clear at the most opportune time with only eight games left until the postseason: Winning a championship is going to take everyone’s maximum effort every night, not just Kobe’s. It was a squeaker 93-91, but the Lakers got it done. (For my own peace of mind, I am pretending Metta World Peace’s inbounds pass to Matt Barnes with 1.2 left in the game never happened. I’ve never seen anything like it.)
For once, everyone contributed. Special recognition must go to Ramon Sessions, who did a great job of controlling tempo. The Lakers completely whiffed on that against the Suns. Very nice adjustment. Tempo is important for the Lakers because it helps keep fatigue at bay and helps them get their defense set.
And of course Pau Gasol. Pau has stepped up into the leadership void left after Derek Fisher got traded. I think Bynum thinks he is 1B to Kobe’s 1A. Wrong. Being a leader is not just having a great year statistically. It’s everything else that goes with it. Being an unselfish teammate. Playing hard for every minute you are on the court. Saying the right things to the media. And generally conducting yourself in a manner befitting the franchise whose logo you wear.
I never like to see Mamba sitting on the bench. But if this is the wake-up call the rest of the team needed to hunker down and get serious, then so be it.
We’ll see if it pays dividends when the playoffs start.