Lakers top Mavs: It’s time to celebrate the arrival of Andrew Bynum

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The Lakers and Mavericks did not play a terrific game Saturday night. Neither team shot better than 45 percent from the field, both were turnover-prone, neither could really get into their offensive flow, and both missed plenty of easy, open shots in spot-up situations. Kobe Bryant tried to do too much, again, this time on a bad ankle, and the Lakers very nearly coughed up a lead which should have been considerably more comfortable for most of the second half considering the slap-happy way the Mavericks were rushing things offensively.

But win they did, thanks to Steve Blake coming in and nailing huge crucial threes, some key plays from Ron Artest (remember him?), Pau Gasol doing damage in the post, and some excellent defensive work, particularly on the Mavericks at the rim.

This game can be used as a seminal moment for the Lakers, snapping back from a disappointing loss in Miami, proving that they still have the Mavs’ number after some regular season struggles, and showing they are still on track to reach the Finals. It can be used to illustrate that although Dallas is talented and experienced, and blessed with tremendous depth down low, it may not be enough thanks to the talent gap in the paint.

But really, if you want to know what this game meant? It’s “the moment” for Andrew Bynum. There have been flashes along the way. Signs. Huge games, bigger than this one. Moments where Bynum was the difference maker, the extra piece, the X-factor, other cliches. This wasn’t the biggest game of Bynum’s career, far from it. But the other games for him were proof of what he could do, what he was capable of, what was possible with him.

His performance against the Mavericks was a statement of what he is doing, where he is at, how he is playing.

In short, Bynum has finally, fully, arrived.

Bynum has always had the ability and the hype that goes with it. In 2008, a colleague I respect at the utmost levels stated that Bynum was already the 24th best player in the league. I scoffed and mocked him, not out of denial of what Bynum was capable of, but out of a question of whether he would ever really reach that level of production, consistency and performance. What Tom Ziller saw three years ago is what Bynum is doing now, dominating the landscape on a championship squad and making it to where the Lakers not only win, but win with relative comfort even on nights where Bryant is struggling, a scenario that would have seemed impossible two years ago. Three years ago I wanted to see the proof in the pudding. This season Bynum has served it with crow-flavored custard on top.

The reason for Bynum’s ascension? Simple.  Health. Bynum has suffered through multiple knee injuries each season, even limping through the 2010 Finals with a small tear. The biggest criticism of Bynum has been his work ethic in regards to those knee injuries. Bynum has always missed benchmarks, return deadlines, and suffered recurrences of injuries. He never rushes back to work and instead constantly gives vague and delayed timelines for his return. But once on the floor, he’s a monster.

Bynum’s numbers aren’t out of this world. They’re the stuff that you’d expect from a top ten center, but what’s most notable is that he’s splitting minutes with Gasol and Lamar Odom as part of the longest and most talented team in the league. His offensive production rarely is featured as the center point for the Lakers with Gasol and Bryant circling the triangle. But he’s hyper efficient, posting the best PER of his career since the 2007-2008 season. And with Bryant struggling with age and injury, and the rest of the Lakers in regular season cruise control, Bynum has become something the Lakers can turn to for production and trust in. Quite simply, he’s just bigger than everyone else. More than once per game, Bynum will bail out a teammate’s bad shot by crashing the offensive glass for a vicious putback or tip-in with his freakishly long arms. There’s nothing you can do to guard Bynum. He’s not savvy like Al Horford or relentless like Joakim Noah or even freakishly athletic like Dwight Howard. He’s just bigger and longer than everyone else, and that is honestly the greatest strength of the Lakers at this point. They can simply bat shots back in by playing volleyball on the offensive glass well over the outstretched arms of those trying to box them out.

Bynum’s not the franchise center. Not yet, far from it. But he’s reached the point where he’s playing consistently, able to put in reliable minutes, giving the consistent effort necessary for Phil Jackson to instill more trust in him, and making life a nightmare for opponents. On a night where the Mavericks did a favorable job on both Bryant and Gasol (a combined 12-34 from the field), it still wasn’t enough. Because Bynum was there to be one step faster, a few inches bigger, a little bit better than the depth Dallas has brought in to contend with the champs. 22 points, 15 rebounds, and the thanks of a grateful championship contender.

It took longer than it should have, but finally the real new Western beast down low has arrived.

It’s Andrew Bynum, and he’s no longer a championship afterthought.

Danny Ainge: Josh Jackson canceled Celtics workout while Brad Stevens and I flew there

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The Celtics were the first playoff team to win the lottery, which brought a complication: Some draft prospects and their agents wanted to avoid Boston, which has a deep roster and fewer avenues to immediate playing time.

Lonzo Ball wouldn’t work out for the Celtics, and neither would Josh Jackson. Ball was straightforward all along on his intent to work out for only the Lakers, who ultimately drafted him No. 2.

With Jackson – who was drafted No. 4 by the Suns after Boston took Jayson Tatum No. 3 – it was more convoluted.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, via CSN New England:

Never talked with Josh. No one in our organization did. I know someone wrote that that was difference, but that’s not the case.

They cancelled a workout on us when we flew out to Sacramento, and they just decided to cancel it as we flew – just Brad and I and Mike Zarren flew cross-country.

So there was something that he didn’t want to play for the Celtics. In spite of that, we’ve watched Josh for two years, and we’re fans. He’s a terrific kid and a good player. So we tried not to overreact to those kinds of things and make a big deal of it.

Agents and players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places, as we’ve seen in the past. You remember last year, Kris Dunn didn’t want to come here. We didn’t hold it against him. We felt like we were just taking the player that we wanted.

And I think the same thing this time. I don’t think we were trying to penalize Josh too much, but we didn’t get to see him or talk to him face-to-face.

I was mad. We flew cross-country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.

There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.

At first glance, this sounds sloppily rude by Jackson and/or his agent, B.J. Armstrong. And maybe it was.

But perhaps there’s more to it? The best professional athletes enter the workforce in conditions unlike anyone else in this country, forced to join whichever single company in their chosen field picks them – the worst companies receiving priority in selection. Players should feel no obligation to help companies in this cartel gather information. Rather, players’ priority should be getting to the company they find most desirable.

Jackson canceling a workout as the Celtics flew to California almost certainly turned them off more than never scheduling the workout in the first place would have. This might have been smart in the long run by Jackson if he didn’t want to go to Boston.

It stinks Ainge, Zarren and Brad Stevens had to deal with it. But it also stinks Jackson has no realistic choice but to participate in a system so unfair to labor.

Still, Ainge responded correctly – trying not to hold the sudden schedule change against Jackson. The Celtics will be better off with the better prospect, whether that’s Jackson or Tatum. If they drafted Jackson, he’d likely get over it. Evaluating Jackson only on what he’d bring to the team is easier said than done, and I’m not sure how well Ainge actually did that. But at least trying to keep that mindset was the right approach.

Jimmy Butler’s trainer calls Bulls GM Gar Forman a liar, less moral than drug dealers

Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune via AP
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The Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves last night, reuniting the star wing with Tom Thibodeau.

Butler apparently took it well. Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Butler’s agent showed perspective. Bernard Lee:

Butler’s trainer, on the other hand, took a completely different tone. Travelle Gaines‏:

I don’t like the implication that drug dealers are immoral.

Otherwise, is Gaines right about Bulls general manager Gar Forman? I don’t know what Forman told Butler.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I do know Forman probably shouldn’t have allowed himself to be drug into public a back-and-forth with Gaines, especially coming across as scolding the trainer. There’s little to be gained there – much like the trade itself.

Watch NBA deputy commissioner crack up as fan announces pick before he does

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If you’re on Twitter during the NBA Draft, there is no suspense. Every pick has been announced minutes before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, or later Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, head to the podium to make the announcement.

On Thursday night, deep in the second round as the crowd at the Barclay’s Centre had mostly left and only a few, not completely sober, diehards remained, Tatum walked up to the podium to give the 52nd pick — and thought it was funny when a fan beat him to it.

I love that he thought it was funny. You think David Stern would have laughed?

Five guys not taken in NBA Draft worth watching

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As a rule of thumb, about 15 percent of the NBA at any point is made of up guys who went undrafted and fought their way into the league. They tend not to be stars, but quality role players who have found a role — and are getting paid. Jeremy Lin, Kent Bazemore, Seth Curry, Tyler Johnson, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavendova, Langston Galloway and Robert Covington, are just part of the list of undrafted guys currently in the league.

Here are five guys that went undrafted Thursday night worth watching.

1. P.J. Dozier 6’6” shooting guard (South Carolina). He has already signed with the Lakers and will be on their Summer League team. He passes the eye test of “has all the physical tools you want in a quality NBA two guard” but has yet to show much polish or string together consistent play. He shows it in flashes, but he needs to be more consistent, particularly finishing with floaters or from the midrange. If he can become more consistent with his shot and handles, he has potential as a combo one/two guard who can both work off the ball and be a secondary shot creator (he has good court vision).

2. Johnathan Motley, 6’9” power forward/center (Baylor). He plays like a center, and he’s undersized but a 7’4” wingspan covers for a lot. He is an amazing rebounder who can score in post. He’s a good athlete who could fit as a small-ball five off the bench to start. He’s an average rim protector, and he is not going to stretch the floor (although he has shown some improvement in that area). He’s a bit raw, he’s inconsistent, and he’s coming off an injury. All that said, some team will give him a shot, this is one of the bigger surprises of guys not taken.

3. Isaiah Hicks, 6’8” power forward (North Carolina). He’s signed with the Clippers and will be on their Summer League team. He’s got an NBA body, which is part of the draw here, but in college he was a power player who could use his strength to his advantage and overwhelm opponents. In the NBA he will find it much harder to do going against men. He does have a soft touch and can run the floor to get points. He’s got to work on his left hand, and developing a more diversified offensive game.

4. George De Paula, 6’6” point guard (Brazil).
At 21 he was the starting point guard for the team that made the Brazilian League finals. He has all the physical tools teams could hope for, including a 7’0” wingspan. He’s made big strides the past couple of years in the things teams want from a point guard such as decision-making and being a floor general, but he is still very raw. This is a project and may continue to develop in Brazil or Europe, but show up in the NBA at some point.

5. Devin Robinson, 6’8″ forward (Florida).
 Already signed with the Washington Wizards to be on their Summer League team. He’s got the versatility of an NBA forward who can cover multiple positions, plus he shot 39.1 percent from three last year. It’s all a bit raw, especially on defense, but he has the tools to fit into the NBA game. His shooting needs to be a little more consistent, he’s got to get stronger and fight through stuff, and there are just concerns about his decision-making and feel for the game. Still, smart gamble by the Wizards.