Andrew Bynum's Maturity Will Be the Elephant in the Room for Philadelphia 76ers
When it comes to Andrew Bynum, the Philadelphia 76ers have one chief concern this season besides the health of his knees and whether or not he'll re-sign next summer.
If Bynum is to become the team's new franchise cornerstone, the Sixers will need to address the question of his maturity.
Here's the problem: The record doesn't look great on that front up until now.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers legend and NBA's all-time leading scorer, recently called Bynum's maturity and leadership abilities into question in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
"Dwight is very committed to playing and winning," Abdul-Jabbar told the Times. "Andrew has been up and down on that issue. There are times he wants to play, do a great job and he goes out and does it. Then there are other times where it seems like he's not focused."
Abdul-Jabbar worked with Bynum from 2005 to 2009, according to the paper, so it's not like these opinions came from left field.
After all, it was only last season that Lakers coach Mike Brown benched Bynum after he attempted a three-pointer with 16 seconds left on the shot clock in the third quarter of a close game against the Golden State Warriors.
That's not typically the best shot selection for a seven-footer—at least, any seven-footer not named Dirk Nowitzki.
When addressing Bynum's new role as the focal point in Philadelphia, Abdul-Jabbar told the Times, "It's up to him to determine how much of a leader he wants to be and how to make that happen on the court. Some people like that position and adjust to it naturally. Other people aren't comfortable with it."
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To Bynum's credit, when asked about Abdul-Jabbar's comments in his opening press conference, he didn't take the opportunity to fire back.
Instead, he said, "I wasn't able to master the skyhook, but outside of that, he showed me a lot of great things. Footwork, rebounding, how to cut the lane off...just, a bunch of things."
Keep in mind, Bynum's only 24 years old. I'm 24 years old, too.
Compared to three years ago, I've matured significantly.
From the looks of things, Bynum also has.
I won't pretend to know what happens in your late 20s—besides lots of baby pictures on Facebook, apparently—but I have to assume that maturation process only continues.
After Bynum's ill-advised three-pointer and benching earlier this year, Bryant said of his young center, "In some ways, the edginess and chippiness of him makes it very easy for me to relate to him because I had some of that when I was young. It's easy for me to see where he's coming from."
Now that Kobe has moved onto full-on elder statesman mode for the NBA, it might be difficult to remember the younger, more caustic version.
Luckily, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson wrote a book that captured the essence of younger Kobe.
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"I'm not going to take any s--- from Shaq this year," Bryant told Jackson (via SI.com) before the start of the 2003-04 season. "If he starts saying things in the press, I'll fire back. I'm not afraid to go up against him. I've had it."
That year, the tension between Kobe and Shaq only escalated, eventually to the point of no return.
"There's no doubt [I can co-exist with Shaq]," Bryant said after the Lakers lost in the 2004 NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons. "I've done that for eight years with him, but I'm tired of being a sidekick."
There's no guarantee that the lovey-dovey relationship between Bynum and the Philadelphia media holds strong through the season if and when the Sixers hit a rough patch.
And unquestionably, a dour Bynum mixed with the snarky Philadelphia media could easily morph into a caustic combination.
With the Sixers, though, Bynum finally gets what he wants.
He's the superstar, the focal point, the cornerstone.
At this point, Sixers fans can only pray that Bynum evolves and matures in a similar way to his former teammate, Bryant.
As Abdul-Jabbar said, here's hoping Bynum likes that position as a leader and adjusts to it naturally.
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