Posted Apr 11 2012 9:10AM
Everybody keeps saying that kids grow up so fast these days.
Then there's Andrew Bynum.
From the moment he was 18 years old and made his NBA debut as the youngest player in league history, the buzz word surrounding the big man has been patience.
So what are we to think of the recent actions of Bynum, who on the Looney Tunes scale is on the safe side of Charlie Sheen rants about tiger blood, but has tip-toed right up to the line of total rock star from Mars?
In the past three weeks, Bynum has:
• Gotten himself ejected early in the third-quarter in Houston, then slapped hands with fans as he went to the locker room, where he watched his team give up a nine-point without him in a loss.
• Tossed up a cavalier 3-pointer with plenty of time on the shot clock early in the third quarter at Golden State, which resulted in his getting benched for the last nine minutes of the game.
• Never apologized for the shot or his behavior in mugging for TV cameras and not joining the team huddle.
• Been fined by the club for his conduct, which included missing a meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak.
• Gotten himself thrown out a second time against the Rockets, this time at home for jawing at the Houston bench during a one-point game that the Lakers would eventually lose.
All of which puts Bynum right back to where he was at the start of the abbreviated season. In case you forgot, he started things off by serving a four-game suspension for "making unnecessary and excessive contact to J.J. Barea" in Game 4 of last season's West semifinals sweep at the hands of the Mavs.
Of course, all that the 7-footer did in between was finally demonstrate he could remain healthy and frequently dominate on the floor. He is averaging career bests of 18.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, numbers that justifiably earned him a spot in the starting lineup for the Western Conference at the 2012 All-Star Game. He was also named Western Conference player of the week on March 1 -- just before he jumped off the tracks.
"I'm not concerned with Bynum's attitude," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "I don't have a problem with Andrew Bynum."
"Everyone should relax and watch him grow up," Bynum's former coach Phil Jackson told the Los Angeles Times.
"He needs to figure out a way to stay out there," said Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who worked with Bynum as a special assistant coach for six seasons. "I really don't know what's happening with him personally."
"In some ways, the edginess, the chippiness of him makes it very easy for me to relate to him because I had some of that when I was young," said teammate Kobe Bryant. "It's easy for me to see where he's coming from."
But while Bryant is perhaps the last in the locker room -- or the NBA, even -- who would have the right to question an ill-thought shot or a petulant streak, he and the rest of the Lakers have to wonder if and when their big man will be ready to be counted on in the playoffs.
After all, Kobe was himself an immature 18-year-old when he entered the league in 1996, never meeting a shot or a situation he didn't think he could make better by dancing to the beat of his own cocksure drummer. Yet by the time he was 24 and playing in his seventh NBA season, Bryant was a five-time All-Star and had won three championships alongside Shaquille O'Neal.
The Bynum who has rung up games like 21 points and 22 rebounds, 37 and 16, 25 and 18 is the anchor in the middle who could carry and the Lakers to their next run of NBA titles. He's the dominant figure that the team would not part with at any time this season, even if it meant landing perennial All-Star Dwight Howard.
Yet the turmoil, the uncertainty and the surging sense of entitlement that's been on display of late (along with the continuing silly soap opera in Orlando) has to make you wonder if that wasn't a trade that both sides could eventually regret not making. Bynum could have been the new face of the Magic and been pushed to reach his potential under the tough-love tutelage of coach Stan Van Gundy. Meanwhile, Howard and his gaping, late-game flaws at the free throw line -- as well as his soft core -- would be covered up by the ego, the hero shots and sheer will of Bryant.
With the start of the playoffs less than three weeks away, are the Lakers any closer to regaining their championship-contender status than when they were getting spanked and embarrassed by Dallas last season?
So they wait on the painful inflammation of Bryant's left shin to subside along with the sudden inflation that's gone on inside Bynum's head.
Patience is only a virtue until you're left holding the bag.
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