NBA Preview: The Odyssey of Andrew Bynum in the City of Brotherly Love

Center Andrew Bynum will now be the eye of the storm for the Philadelphia 76ers after being traded by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Andrew Bynum has been an enigma since he first came into the NBA. He still is. One day he plays as the game’s dominant big man. Then the next couple of nights he might play as if he is in his backyard trying to entertain some friends. This is what makes Bynum so frustrating to understand. It is also why he is so fascinating to watch.

At 7-foot and 285 pounds, with the imposing figure of a bodybuilder, there’s no doubt that Bynum has the ability to bring his hard hat to work every night and dish out some serious punishment on opposing centers around the league, including Dwight Howard. For years, Bynum gave Los Angeles Lakers fans both promise and exasperation.

There were times he exhibited the kind of skills the Lakers thought he could produce when they made Bynum their first round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Then there were times Bynum made those same fans scratch their heads in bemusement with his sometime immature ways on the court, like when he gave a cheap shot elbow to the midsection of former Dallas point guard J.J. Barea in haste of seeing his team getting swept by the Mavericks in the playoffs two years ago.

Of course, Bynum’s action was then preceded by him getting ejected from the game and walking off the court half-nude. Bynum’s presence on the Lakers helped give the organization their 15th and 16th NBA titles. But with Bynum, the expectations were set high. The bar was raised to a standard he could not meet.

Sometimes the criticism of Bynum’s play has been warranted. At other times, it has not.

However, when you are a center playing for the Lakers, greatness is almost an inherited pedigree. But you still have to work at being the best of the best. Hall of Fame centers George MIkan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar laid down the foundation of success for any Laker big man coming after them as did future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.

That standard may have been a little too high for Bynum, the youngest player to ever come into the league. Fair or unfair, without Bynum occupying the paint, the Lakers don’t beat the Orlando Magic or the Boston Celtics in their two recent championship runs. In fact, Bynum gave Howard more than he could handle in their lone one-on-one matchup in a championship series.

But since the Lakers have been bounced out the postseason the last two years by the Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bynum’s play has been under even more scrutiny and has ruffled some feathers-from fans and his peers.

Hopefully, that won’t be the case in Philadelphia. After being shipped to the City of Brotherly Love in a blockbuster traded that sent Howard to the Lakers from the Orlando Magic, Bynum should be able flourish with a different level of expectations. As he grew in stature as a player with the Lakers, Bynum also grew in confidence as a leader, getting to the point of even questioning the play of Kobe Bryant, the face of the legendary franchise.

That may have bought Bynum a one-way ticket out of town. Maybe Bynum had a difficult time conceptualizing this while he was wearing the famous Purple and Gold uniform, but until he officially retires, the Lakers are emphatically Kobe’s team.  The Philadelphia 76ers is now his team. And it just may be the perfect fit for both sides involved.

In his eighth season as a pro, Bynum is shooting 56 percent clip from the field, averaging 11. 7 points and nearly eight rebounds a game. Not too bad for a young man who decided to bypass his college career.  Earvin “Magic” Johnson thinks that Bynum can really prosper in Philadelphia. Speaking to reporters on an international teleconference call previewing the upcoming NBA season, the ESPN analyst said Bynum has the ability to take his game to another level when he doesn’t let outside stuff distract him.

“I don’t have doubts in his ability,” Johnson said in response to a reporter’s question about Bynum. “I’ve seen Andrew dominate. I saw the game against San Antonio, where he went and grabbed 30 rebounds. Andrew Bynum is the second most talented big man in the game today. Offensively, he’s got more moves than Dwight Howard. Andrew Bynum can play basketball.”

That has never been issue to Johnson. The issue Johnson is most concerned about Bynum is whether or not the young center is capable of showing leadership.

“The problem with Andrew is when he gets down or when he gets into a confrontation with a coach or he is not feeling good about a teammate,” Johnson said. “Then he let that bother him, and he let that come to court instead of leaving it the locker room. He then goes out and gets five rebounds, or it’s ten and five, or he pouts. He not only hurts himself, he hurts his teammates.

“So, is he mature enough to handle the fact that now it is his team?  He is the man. When it is not going good, will he still come and play at 150 percent?  Will he be able to make his teammates better? Andrew Bynum has all the talent in the world. When he wants to dominate, he dominates. We’ve seen that. Every year, he goes through a stretch…I would say about 10 to 15 games, where he just dominates the league. It’s unbelievable the numbers that he puts up. After that, he reverts back to a guy we scratch our heads about.”

Besides balancing his temperament, Johnson said Bynum needs to stay healthy to reach his full potential. Outside of lackluster play at times, the chief concern about Bynum has been his health, particularly his knees. Bynum has been dogged by one ailment after another during his seven years with the Lakers. Playing an entire season would be one step toward erasing doubts about whether he can stay healthy or not.

“I’m just hoping that he just plays for 82 games, and also, stay healthy for 82 games, Johnson said.  “He hasn’t been healthy every season that we’ve had him here in L.A. But when it comes to playing, he can play.”

 

 

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