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Andrew Bynum: Can the L.A. Lakers Center Still Be an NBA Star?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJune 7, 2011

DALLAS, TX - MAY 08:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers is ejected from play against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2011 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Can you imagine how good Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum could be if fate had not chose to deal him a hand that was loaded with a string of future injuries

When I first saw Bynum as a 17-year-old high schooler in New Jersey I was impressed by his quick feet, size, strength and rebounding acumen but I was still a little confused as to why the Lakers selected Bynum with the 10th pick of the 2005 NBA draft.

I understood the Lakers desperate need for an inside presence to replace the departed Shaquille O'Neal, but Bynum seemed like a bit of a reach with the 10th pick, especially considering the fact he had no real basketball skills.

Bynum was extremely raw in my opinion, and although I could definitely see his potential, I didn't think the Lakers had the time to wait for his talent to manifest.

Los Angeles had pretty much dropped off the NBA map in the immediate time after O'Neal left for Miami as they failed to reach the postseason for only the second time in the history of the franchise, and Bynum looked to be at the very least a five season project.

Star guard Kobe Bryant had began to whisper about being traded and those whispers became full-blown shouts following a season without the playoffs, and a subsequent first round exit when the Lakers did finally manage to qualify again following the 2005-06 season.

But just when Bryant's threats of a forced trade were at their highest decibel following the Lakers collapse against Phoenix during the 2007 NBA Playoffs, a funny thing happened.

All of a sudden Bryant quieted down and signed his contract extension and when the 2007-08 season began we were able to catch a glimpse of why Kobe's pleas for "help or else" had been silenced.

Bynum began the 2007-08 season on a tear averaging 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and shooting an amazing 63 percent from the field, but more importantly the Lakers were once again challenging for the top spot in the west.

Bynum had shown amazing progress in his development, much of which can be credited to former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he finally had begun to match fundamental skills with his enormous potential.

Early during the 2007-08 season Bynum showed off his back to the basket game, a drop step move to either shoulder, and instincts around the basket that could never be taught.

There were also a few bonuses as Bynum proved to be a very competent passer from the post, and he was adept at using his size and strength to create advantages on the defensive end and for gaining rebounding position.

The Lakers appeared to be well on their way to a high seed in the playoffs until Bynum hurt his knee 35 games into the season in what was first described as a freak injury.

But when Bryant inadverdently fell into Bynum's knee it turned out to a bad omen of things to come. Bynum was lost for the remainder of the regular season and the Lakers march to the NBA Finals in 2008.

In Bynum's second NBA season he appeared in all 82 regular season games, and it would be the last time that Bynum participated in a full NBA season.

In 2008-09 Bynum was off to another hot start averaging 14 points and 8.0 rebounds, but was felled by yet another knee injury and only competed in 50 regular season games.

 Bynum did return for the postseason and played a key role in helping the Lakers capture their first NBA championship since the O'Neal era, but he was injured yet again during the 2009-10 season.

Do you sense a pattern?

Lakers fans did not need Bynum's final injury in 2009-10 to be convinced that the young center could now be considered injury-prone, but just in case the memo was missed the slightly torn meniscus against Oklahoma City in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs served as a grim reminder.

Bynum did earn a new level of respect among Lakers fans by playing through that injury and helping power Los Angeles to consecutive championships, but at season's end it was revealed that the injury was more severe than it was first believed to be.

That caused Bynum to miss more significant time at the start of the 2010-11 season, and by then his reputation as a star-crossed, injury plagued potential star was finally complete.

And the most damning aspect of Bynum's repeated injuries is that they all seemed to occur just as Bynum was taking a  major step in his development.

At 7'1 Bynum is one of the last of a dying breed as one of the NBA's only true low-post centers, and he has been blessed with the gifts of strength, athleticism, and sharp instincts in the paint.

What Bynum hasn't been blessed with is the ability to stay healthy, which makes you wonder if his strong finish to this season is Bynum's first step towards stardom or just another prelude to an eventual injury?

This season Bynum averaged 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and shot 57 percent from the field, but in the postseason Bynum increased his averages to 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds which are both career highs.

Bynum is not quite 24 years old and as the Lakers youngest starter his immaturity was sometimes an issue as a late season suspension against Minnesota, and another loss of emotional control in the Lakers postseason loss to Dallas illustrates.

But it's extremely hard to question Bynum's passion, toughness and ability, and with more experience he will certainly learn to get a better grasp on his emotions?

But can Bynum ever find the elusive secret to a full healthy 82 game season which has escaped him thus far?

The Lakers appear to be resigned on grooming Bynum to be the eventual heir to the throne that Bryant now holds, and he has shown that he has the talent and potential to assume that role, but he has yet to prove he can stay healthy enough to earn it.

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