Why This Year Is Make or Break for Andrew Bynum

Malcolm MartinContributor ISeptember 30, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers is introduced before the game against the Orlando Magic in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  The Lakers won 99-86.  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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Remember 2005?

Ah yes, a year that Laker fans have tried in vain to forget for so long, in which a lack of a true center (Kwame Brown was our starting center, that says it all right there), among other problems such as a coach that fled before the All-Star Break (Rudy Tomjanovich), led to a 34-48 record, last in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference, and not in the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history.

On the bright side, a deplorable season usually leads to a good draft, and the Lakers found themselves in unfamiliar territory: the NBA draft lottery.

With the 10th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Lakers took a 7', 17-year-old kid out of St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, passing up Nate Robinson, Danny Granger, and David Lee. Four years and a championship banner later, that kid has become the Andrew Bynum that we all know and (every now and then) love.

Bynum hasn't enjoyed the smoothest of roads, however. Graceland hasn't been kind to Drew, as he's gotten hurt two of the last three times the Lakers have paid the Grizzlies a visit in Memphis.

He's been known to spend some of his rehab time balancing Playboy bunnies on his broad shoulders, and it seems that not even the all-time scoring champ, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, can counsel him into more than seven points a game during the playoffs, when his team needs him to reach his potential the most.

Centers from elite teams like Shaq, Dwight Howard, Yao Ming (when he's healthy), Tim Duncan, and Kendrick Perkins seem to manhandle No. 17 with ease. He plays lazily quite often, and when he does finally spring into action, he picks up two quick fouls and can see Lamar Odom walking to the scorer's table out of the corner of his eye.

This isn't to say that Bynum and Kwame are one in the same. For starters, Bynum, with all his flaws, can actually catch the ball. Kwame still has problems in that department.

My point is that the Lakers had more in mind when they drafted him in 2005.

Spurts of potential do materialize every now and then, usually before he receives a contract extension or right before the Lakers visit FedEx Forum to face the not-so-mighty Grizzlies.

For his stats, Bynum has to be one of the highest paid players in the league. Some fans view him and his agent (also named David Lee) as the reason that Trevor Ariza is now the interim franchise player for the Houston Rockets until Tracy McGrady gets healthy. (Mr. Lee represents both Bynum and Ariza, and because he did such a good job getting Bynum his money, that there wasn't enough money for Ariza, who played a much bigger role in the Lakers winning it all in 2009 than Bynum did.)

Many people feel that this is truly a make-or-break year for the 21-year-old, and that if he doesn't materialize into the center that we all know he can be, that he can take his 6.5 PPG average elsewhere. He might have been there for every game in the playoffs, but according to the stat sheets, he only truly showed up in a few of these games.

He needs to get tougher, and hopefully Ron Artest brings enough testosterone for everyone. He also needs to become more aware, and he needs to play stronger.

I'm all for the kid...if he delivers.

[NOTE: Someone who has to be more worried about their current job than Bynum is Sasha Vujacic. He averaged a three-pointer a game in last year's playoffs, and I know that there are several games where he didn't score at all.]


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