Andrew Bynum's Maturity and Consistency Are Key to His Philadelphia 76ers Future

Roy BurtonContributor ISeptember 11, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the fourth quarter while taking on the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Physically, Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum has few peers in the NBA. Quite simply, he is a 7', 285-pound manchild who is poised to wreak havoc on the Eastern Conference next season.

In terms of his maturity, however, it's clear that the 24-year-old Bynum still has plenty of growing to do. And provided that he does so, Bynum may very well be the franchise-defining big man that Philadelphia has lacked for the past 25 years.

There is a reason why many are touting Bynum as the best center that the Sixers have had since Moses Malone. But while those expectations need to be tempered a bit, Bynum's talent is undeniable.

Last year, the former Los Angeles Lakers star finished with career highs in both points (18.7 PPG) and rebounds (11.8 RPG), while shooting nearly 56 percent from the field. In 60 games, Bynum notched 37 double-doubles and only had four contests in which he scored less than 10 points.

Based solely on his on-court ability, Bynum can be the cornerstone for a Sixers' franchise that has been devoid of star power since Allen Iverson's departure in the fall of 2006. And while it may be too much to ask Bynum to be one of Philadelphia's leaders this year, he can—at the very least—be more of a team player than he was while with the Lakers.

Bynum was suspended for the first four games of last season for giving former Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea a forearm shiver during the 2011 Western Conference playoffs. The hit was totally uncalled for, and it took Bynum two days to apologize for the incident.

It was the second time in two months that Bynum was hit with a severe flagrant foul call—the first came when he body-checked former Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley back in March 2011. And while Bynum doesn't have a reputation as a dirty player, he can't afford to have those types of emotional lapses with the Sixers next season.

For the first time in his NBA career, Bynum will be expected to carry the load for his team on offense. As the focal point of the 76ers' attack, not only will he have to maintain a level-headed approach at all times, but he also needs to buy into the philosophy of head coach Doug Collins.

In the third quarter of a game against the Golden State Warriors last March, Bynum pulled up for an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Lakers head coach Mike Brown was so incensed by the decision that he immediately pulled his star center from the game, and Bynum was forced to watch the rest of the contest from the bench.

After the game, Bynum showed no remorse for his actions, and didn't understand why Brown chose to discipline him in such a manner.

"I guess, 'Don't take 3s' is the message, but I'm going to take another one and I'm going to take some more, so I just hope it's not the same result," said Bynum. "Hopefully I make it."

Like Brown, Collins is a very detail-oriented coach, and his style has allegedly rubbed many of his players the wrong way over the past two years. It wouldn't be all that surprising to see Bynum and Collins clash early on, and if the two can't settle their differences amicably, then the Sixers may have second thoughts about the max deal that they're preparing to offer Bynum next summer.

With the start of the regular season still weeks away, 76ers fans are still in the honeymoon phase with their newly acquired center. That period of unbridled bliss will end after either Bynum's first subpar game or his initial blowup with Collins.

But Bynum ultimately holds the key to everything. And if he can withstand the slings and arrows that will be sent his way, then his future—and the future of the Sixers—will be in good hands going forward.

"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," said former Lakers' great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when asked about Bynum's future prospects (h/t Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times). "Some people like that position and adjust to it naturally. Other people aren't comfortable with it."