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Andrew Bynum
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Summer job: Bynum works to tap into sky-high potential

By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Oct 26 2008 2:50PM

Editors' note: NBA.com Senior Writer Dave McMenamin was granted exclusive access and recently spent a day with the Lakers' Andrew Bynum as the center went through his offseason training regimen. Bynum missed 47 games last season with a knee injury.

LOS ANGELES -- There is nothing quite as intriguing as the unknown.

You see, the unknown has endless potential, and that idea is like the strongest drug known to man because it means the promise of a brand new day, better than any day before it.

The unknown is a place where the grass is greener, the world is wiser and positive endings never cease.

The Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum is a lot like the unknown.

When you search his name on YouTube, one of the first videos that pops up is a three-minute highlight montage with Lil' Wayne's "Sky's The Limit" playing behind clip after clip of Bynum turning lob passes into rim-shaking dunks.

The hype is real and inescapable.

A short time before the start of Lakers' training camp, NBA.com tagged along with Bynum, his trainer Sean Zarzana and his older brother Corey Thomas to see what it's like to be just 20 years old and preparing to embark on your fourth NBA season.

Sound ridiculous? How is it possible that a four-year pro isn't old enough to drink yet? The NBA isn't like European ball, where a 14-year-old like Ricky Rubio can sign a contract in Spain.

RELATED LINKS

Q&A: Dave McMenamin's Q&A with Andrew Bynum
PHOTOS: Andrew Bynum's career
NBA TV VIDEO: A Day In The Life Of Andrew Bynum
NBA TV VIDEO: Bynum scores 23 points in Lakers' preseason finale

NBA TV VIDEO: Lakers season preview
NBA TV VIDEO: SI's Chris Mannix on the Lakers & Bynum

The numbers don't add up.

Well, they do actually, when you're a one of a kind.

Bynum was the youngest player ever to be drafted when L.A. selected him with the 10th pick in 2005 as a 17-year-old. A few months later, he became the youngest ever to play in an NBA regular-season game at the ripe age of 18 years, six days.

To say this offseason had a lot riding on it for Bynum is as much an understatement as saying the U.S. Government's plan to buy banks to stabilize the economy is important to succeed.

Just like the bail out is crucial to the future of the country as a world power, Bynum's future as a Laker and as an up-and-coming force in the NBA were to be defined by an arduous summer full of training.

First there was the question of his health. Bynum temporarily dislocated his left knee cap and suffered a bone bruise on January 13 against Memphis when he came down on Lamar Odom's foot while battling for a rebound. The initial diagnosis had Bynum out for eight weeks as surgery wouldn't be necessary. Two months quickly became three months and it was news when Bynum ran on a treadmill for the first time following the injury. After four months, Bynum made headlines once again for consulting a knee specialist in New York.

All the while, his team made a move that changed the look of its frontline and catapulted it to a level of success it hadn't achieved since Shaquille O'Neal was manning the middle.

In February, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak pulled off the deal of the season, acquiring a 2010 second-round pick and Pau Gasol, a polished, skilled forward who was a former All-Star and Rookie of the Year. To pull off the trade, L.A. sent Bynum's backup, Kwame Brown, little-used guard Javaris Crittenton, the rights to Marc Gasol and first-round picks in 2008 and 2010 to Memphis.

Gasol fit perfectly in the triangle offense and filled the void in the middle. He also personified the type of big-name acquisition that Kobe Bryant was clamoring for before the season began when Bryant was in his "call-up-radio-stations-and-threaten-to-never-play-again-in-L.A." phase.

As Bynum watched from the sideline, his team rocketed to the top of the Western Conference and earned the No. 1 seed in the West in perhaps the most competitive season the conference had ever hosted.

Bynum was supposed to join in the fun before the regular season ended, but it never happened. His return date got pushed back until sometime in the playoffs. When he didn't suit up against Denver in the First Round, or Utah in the West Semifinals, coach Phil Jackson had to pull the plug on any comeback hopes. Jackson said Bynum would be having knee surgery after all and would not be available the rest of the way.

Of course, "the rest of the way" ended up being an extended run that including unseating the defending champion Spurs in five games in the Western Conference Finals and then a disappointing Finals against Boston, which the Celtics won in six games. The Finals exposed L.A.'s need for interior defense and rebounding to fortify its potent offense.

All Bynum could do was watch as his team kept going deeper and deeper into the playoffs. Had he been healthy, he would have gladly offered his 7-foot, 285-pound frame to compete against Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, P.J. Brown and Leon Powe.

If the injury and the new look of the Lakers' frontline wasn't enough on Bynum's plate, he also has to think about his wallet.

The Lakers picked up the fourth-year option on the big man's rookie contract, but haven't offered him an extension.

So, Bynum's season checklist looks like this:

• Get 100 percent healthy.
• Integrate his play with Pau Gasol's game.
• Perform well enough in his contract year to warrant the $80-plus million contract that his agent David Lee is seeking.
• Perform well enough to get L.A. over the hump and win a championship.

Normally you'd rank four tasks as Nos. 1-4, but in Bynum's case, each goal is intertwined with the three others. It's all or nothing.

9 a.m. -- Aviation Park -- Redondo Beach, Calif.

Bynum and his trainer roll up to the outdoor track in his pristine BMW M6. With the top down, the black, shiny, tan-leather-interior whip with rims as big as potholes catches your eye before you notice the would-be reigning NBA field goal percentage leader is behind the wheel.

(Bynum was on pace to be Mr. FG PCT before the injury. He was shooting .636 when he was injured, but didn't have enough games played at the end of the season to be eligible for the distinction so it went to Golden State's Andris Biedrins and his .626 mark.)

The car is pure power and grace, an in-your-face, tangible representation of Bynum's short journey from high school phenom to a pro with potential oozing out of the shoe lace holes in his size 18s. There's a vanity plate on the front bumper that reads "STUGOTTS," which in Bynum's case roughly translates to, "Yeah, I've come a long way from Metuchen, N.J., but don't peg me for a laid-back, free-love Californian. I still have that East Coast edge." (For the literal meaning, head to UrbanDictionary.com or add some old seasons of The Sopranos to your next NetFlix order.)

Bynum and his trainer lead the procession and his older brother Thomas follows in his not-too-shabby Nissan GTR behind them.

RELATED LINKS

Q&A: Dave McMenamin's Q&A with Andrew Bynum
PHOTOS: Andrew Bynum's career
NBA TV VIDEO: A Day In The Life Of Andrew Bynum
NBA TV VIDEO: Bynum scores 23 points in Lakers' preseason finale

NBA TV VIDEO: Lakers season preview
NBA TV VIDEO: SI's Chris Mannix on the Lakers & Bynum

Thomas is more than a brother to Bynum. He's a father figure, a manager, a friend and a historian of Andrew's career.

"I have video of him playing at 3 years old," Thomas said. "When he was 10 or 11, he could do guard stuff in a big guy's body ... when he was in ninth grade and dominating guys in the AAU circuit, I knew he could play in the NBA someday."

The first part of Bynum to exit the front seat are his legs, and while the rest of his body might have been sculpted from its roundish high school form since he got to the league, his trunks have always been solid as oak.

He's wearing a plain white T-shirt, plain white shorts and a plain pair of white running shoes. No sunglasses, no earrings, no chains ... just a man ready to work. When a member of the NBA TV camera crew accompanying us asked him if he would mind wearing a mic, Bynum had no problem with it; he was just concerned for the well being of the equipment. "As long as it's water resistant," Bynum said before his trainer added, "He's going to sweat like a beast."

Zarzana and Bynum go through this routine six days a week during the summer. Zarzana, who got his start in the sports world by working with NFL players in Atlanta while practicing fulltime as a chiropractor and physician, began working with Bynum two summers ago. The young center had just made it through his rookie season in which he lost 15 pounds because he wasn't used to sustaining his playing weight over the course of an 82-game campaign.

Those two summers full of Bynum's fitness aficionado can take most of the credit for his rookie averages of 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds to jump to 7.8 points and 5.9 boards in his second year and 13.1 and 10.2 last year.

While Bynum and his trainer ran through a slew of drills on the field -- resistance running, a running drill called "karaoke", hopping over mini hurdles, tossing around a medicine ball, various sprints -- Thomas gazes at the sweat pouring off Bynum's brow and quips: "I get tired just watching him work out. The only lifting I do these days is the burger from the In-N-Out bag to my mouth."

Thomas says that once Bynum started putting in the killer summers with Zarzana, that's when he really "turned the corner" with Jackson and Bryant, too. "His work ethic did it," Thomas said.

Bynum's time in high school made him a hot commodity to the top collegiate programs in America. He even committed to Connecticut before deciding to enter the NBA Draft straight out of high school.

Bynum would be entering his senior year at UConn had he chosen the NCAA path. If he was a Husky these last three years, he would have teamed with six future NBAers: Charlie Villanueva, Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong and Denham Brown. This season there would be the second coming of the twin towers in Storrs, Conn., with Bynum feeling short for the first time in his life by playing next to the Huskies' 7-foot-3 center, Hasheem Thabeet.

Bynum was in the same high school class as the Warriors' Monta Ellis and the Sixers' Lou Williams and knows both of the guards well from playing in high school all-star games and national AAU tournaments. In fact, Thomas tells me that Bynum was so close to Williams that had the 6-foot-2 guard decided to enroll at Georgia and delay his entry into the draft, Bynum was going to follow him there.

Seeing Ellis ink a $66 million deal and Williams sign an extension worth $25 million this summer could only have motivated Bynum more to get his big payday.

10:30 a.m. -- Batting Cages -- Loyola Marymount University

With the cardio portion of his day in the books, it's time for Bynum to get his swoll on at the weight room. The Lakers frown upon trainers who don't work for their organization using their weight room facilities, so instead of heading to El Segundo to use the lavish setup at the Toyota Sports Center, the Lakers' practice facility, Bynum and Zarzana head to a gritty gym next to the baseball field on LMU's campus.

To call it a "gym" is actually being generous. It's really just a few benches and some free weights at the back of the batting cages that are in a big shed behind the baseball diamond. It's gritty, but the setting is almost as romanticized as seeing Rocky use huge cuts of meat in a freezer as punching bags -- only it's not a movie.

Zarzana starts Bynum off with an agility drill where the big man has to balance on something that looks like a Pogo Ball with his hands straight up in the air and toss a basketball back and forth.

Next it's weights and the barbells might as well have pictures of O'Neal and Yao Ming on them, because Bynum openly admits that those guys are the reason he goes so hard bulking up. The idea is to punish himself in the summer with the hopes of punishing them during the season.

RELATED LINKS

Q&A: Dave McMenamin's Q&A with Andrew Bynum
PHOTOS: Andrew Bynum's career
NBA TV VIDEO: A Day In The Life Of Andrew Bynum
NBA TV VIDEO: Bynum scores 23 points in Lakers' preseason finale

NBA TV VIDEO: Lakers season preview
NBA TV VIDEO: SI's Chris Mannix on the Lakers & Bynum

Shaq is always going to be a measuring stick for Bynum, whether he likes it or not. The memories of Shaq leaving because O'Neal forced L.A.'s hand in dealing him to Miami -- effectively ending Showtime II -- were still fresh on Lakers fans' minds when Bynum was coming in.

Bynum's "welcome to the NBA" moment occurred in his rookie season against O'Neal on Jan. 16, 2006.

Yup, the dunk.

The L.A. crowd was already fired up to have the Big Aristotle back in the building for the first time since his trade to Miami, when in the second quarter, Shaq threw down a putback dunk on Bynum's head, sending Bynum sprawling towards the floor. Bynum got up immediately, sprinted down the court and called for the ball on the block against Shaq. This time the pupil played teacher as Bynum eluded O'Neal with a textbook drop step move and dunked home two of his own. The two jostled on their way back down the other end, a double technical foul was called and Bynum's Laker legend was born.

"Basically all I can say to that is to thank Shaq for making me become an overnight celebrity, so to speak," Bynum says. "The energy in the crowd can really move people, I don't think people realize that enough, and that's definitely what happened in our situation. The whole arena erupted and that was just an amazing moment at the time and it can make you do things that are said to be impossible."

The strength training begins with 10 pull-ups, then 10 free weight lifts in various fashions (butterfly, curl, extending over his head), then it's on to 10 pushups and 10 dips. It's a high-paced workout meant to stimulate every body part. He moves from one motion to the next like a judge making his way down the line at a chili cook-off. Zarzana gives him 30 seconds to catch his breath sitting down, to simulate the type of rest he would get in a game during a timeout, and Bynum goes through the whole gamut again with nine reps ... break ... eight reps ...break, all the way down to one.

11:45 a.m. -- Toyota Sports Center -- El Segundo, Calif.

We head to the Lakers' practice facility so Bynum can actually work some basketball into his day, but the last full-court run of the day has just ended.

There are about a half a dozen players milling around the court throwing a football around. Bynum, who played tight end in high school, gets in the mix and snags several difficult catches by the baseline and manages to keep both feet in bounds.

"With no pads I can catch anything. Put on the helmet and it's a different story."

The group includes a couple of D-League Defenders players, Coby Karl, Joe Crawford, Jordan Farmar and Josh Powell, the newly acquired power forward who went from the Clippers to the Lakers.

Powell and Bynum have become fast friends. Most of Bynum's other close buddies aren't on the team anymore, including the other three rookies that he entered the league with -- Von Wafer, Devin Green and Ronny Turiaf. Wafer is trying to latch on to the Rockets' roster while Green was a preseason cut by the Spurs. Turiaf signed a free agent contract with the Warriors during the off-season.

RELATED LINKS

Q&A: Dave McMenamin's Q&A with Andrew Bynum
PHOTOS: Andrew Bynum's career
NBA TV VIDEO: A Day In The Life Of Andrew Bynum
NBA TV VIDEO: Bynum scores 23 points in Lakers' preseason finale

NBA TV VIDEO: Lakers season preview
NBA TV VIDEO: SI's Chris Mannix on the Lakers & Bynum

Thomas says Bynum "is cool" with teammate Trevor Ariza, citing that the two share the same agent, but his best friends on the team, like the Hawks' Maurice Evans, have since left town. It's just the nature of the business.

One friend he has who's still around is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jabbar was hired by the Lakers on Sept. 2, 2005 as a special assistant coach. But the last couple years, he's basically served as a personal coach for Bynum while trying to impart some of the wisdom he gathered in a career in which he won six championships and retired as the all-time leading scorer in league history.

Thomas describes "the Cap" as the college coach his brother never had.

"I think that's a great statement by my brother," Bynum says, "[Abdul-Jabbar] is somebody who has a channel directly to me, as far as, I have to listen to what he says just off the fact that he his Kareem so it would be foolish for me not to listen.

"Just for him to be able to come tell me little things, as far as, 'Oh, your footwork was great last game, keep that up,' or, 'You're sliding over late on defense all the time, this is how you're supposed to do it,' I just think those are kind of irreplaceable pieces of knowledge that I'm able to get just because I'm a Laker and just because of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."

12:45 p.m. -- Benihana -- Torrance, Calif.

If Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps consumes 12,000 calories a day standing at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, you can only imagine the amount of food it takes to keep a 7-footer pushing 300 pounds running on all cylinders.

Over a hearty lunch, Bynum enjoys his combination of orange, pineapple and cranberry juice and talks like a typical 20-year-old, citing his favorite moment from Entourage ("Did you see when Ari slapped that guy? That was craaaaaaaa-zy.") and cracking up when talking about a link that Gilbert Arenas included in a recent NBA.com blog post that showed a music video of Baron Davis dancing in roller skates.

RELATED LINKS

Q&A: Dave McMenamin's Q&A with Andrew Bynum
PHOTOS: Andrew Bynum's career
NBA TV VIDEO: A Day In The Life Of Andrew Bynum
NBA TV VIDEO: Bynum scores 23 points in Lakers' preseason finale

NBA TV VIDEO: Lakers season preview
NBA TV VIDEO: SI's Chris Mannix on the Lakers & Bynum

Bynum turns 21 on Oct. 27, the day before the season starts. Thomas is planning a birthday bash that was supposed to be a surprise, but he's talking openly about it in front of Bynum.

After the meal, the restaurant owner asks to pose for a picture with him and tells him that's going to frame it and put it on the wall, right under one of the owner and Maria Sharapova.

In the parking lot, Bynum revs his BMW's engine for the cameras as he films a spot for NBA TV. This catches the attention of a couple of gentleman in a 1962 Impala at the opposite end of the lot. A good old-fashioned rev-off ensues before the Impala drives over and parks next to Bynum so they can both appreciate each other's ride. What does Bynum say when he looks under the hood of the Impala?

"That's craaaaaa-zy."

3:00 p.m. -- El Dorado Bowling Center -- Westchester, Calif.

The last stop is the bowling alley in Bynum's neighborhood. Before his knee injury, Bynum used to come here all the time, but is working his way back to the lanes now that he's recovered.

Everybody changes into bowling shoes except Bynum who keeps his sneakers on -- sorry, no size 18s here.

Before we start the first frame I ask him how good he is and what I can expect. 175? 200?

"175, easy," Bynum says.

The first game he bowls a 90 to my 108.

It's a leisurely end to the day as we go three on three -- Andrew, Corey and Zarzana, against myself, our NBA TV producer and Thomas's stepson, Dave.

RELATED LINKS

Q&A: Dave McMenamin's Q&A with Andrew Bynum
PHOTOS: Andrew Bynum's career
NBA TV VIDEO: A Day In The Life Of Andrew Bynum
NBA TV VIDEO: Bynum scores 23 points in Lakers' preseason finale

NBA TV VIDEO: Lakers season preview
NBA TV VIDEO: SI's Chris Mannix on the Lakers & Bynum

Bynum gets back on track the next couple of games, but I still beat him in two out of three overall. I tell Thomas jokingly that I hope his brother makes it to Springfield someday, because I'd love to tell my kids that their dad beat a Hall of Famer in an athletic competition.

Two things strike me at the lanes as our eight-hour long day draws to its end:

• Bynum is still wearing the same shorts, socks and shoes that he's worn all day, but Bynum stays good natured and amiable the whole time.

• Bynum's nephew Dave is 15 years old and looks like a typical teenager -- still waiting for that growth spurt, wearing braces and baggy clothes. It's amazing to think that Andrew is actually closer in age to Dave then he is to Thomas, 27, who has been fielding business calls and answering e-mails on his BlackBerry on Bynum's behalf.

There aren't that many all-time records to go around in the NBA. Abdul-Jabbar has the points, Wilt Chamberlain has the rebounds, Hakeem Olajuwon has the blocks, John Stockton owns the assists and steals and Bynum has the days -- as in him being the least amount of days old of any player ever to step foot in an NBA game.

Bynum is a young man who lives in the moment, which in turn, sets him up to live many more exciting moments in the future. It's still unknown what's in store for Bynum.

Is it a good investment to give an $80 million contract to a guy who has career averages of 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game?

That's tough to say.

Is it a good investment to give an $80-million deal to a guy who looks up to Tim Duncan and wants to retire as one of the NBA's all-time great big men?

Is it a good investment to give an $80-million deal to a guy expects to shoot 80 percent from the foul line and always shows up for big nights against Andrew Bogut -- the No. 1 draft pick from his class?

Is it a good investment to give an $80-million deal to a guy didn't back down to Shaq as a 17-year old, got Kobe and Phil to believe in him as a 19-year old and counts Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a mentor?

It just might be.

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