Andrew Bynum’s “two steps up, one step back” dance with maturity continues

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I remember seeing Andrew Bynum as a 17-year-old at Summer League — then held in Long Beach, California — just weeks after being drafted. Two things stuck out to me at those games and interviews:

1) He and his game were so immature. Raw doesn’t even do his game justice. This was raw like sharks eating a seal. His footwook was non-existent as he took little hooks off the wrong foot and got pushed around in the post by the men who had come to earn a spot on an NBA roster. There were flashes of what was to come — his incredible length and potential were evident — but it was going to be a long road.

2) He was confident. He was convinced even then he would be the starting All-Star center one day. Early in his rookie year he said he hoped Kobe Bryant would still be playing at an All-Star level when he got there. He was sure he would grow to be the anchor of the Lakers front line.

Kevin Ding reminded me of this is a fantastic column at the Orange County Register Friday, which touches on the maturation of Bynum.

How does Andrew Bynum now compare to the Andrew Bynum the Lakers have employed the previous six years? The simple answer is that Bynum, 24, is rather the same yet critically better in all the most important ways.

Yes, there’s more edge, impatience and ego. (And those are some of things that swelled in Bryant over the years, no?)… We want it all now. If Bynum can score like a grown man now, he should act like one!

Well, all teams want their star players to be all things, and the reality is none of those guys are going to be. Deal with it, work with it and in some cases even cater to it to keep your star around for a chance to win.

Andrew Bynum’s edge has come out a lot in recent weeks — most recently in a silly ejection in the Lakers Friday night loss to the Rockets. He picked up an early technical and was clearly frustrated with physical play from Samuel Dalembert. The Lakers coaches warned him he had a tech and to keep his cool. But he couldn’t — after one play he jawed at the Rockets bench and the refs hit him with a second technical. He wasn’t there when the Lakers needed him late (his defense really wasn’t there all night, he had taken a mental vacation).

It was stupid — Bynum still puts himself ahead of his teammates. That is frustrating to Lakers fans and coaches, and certainly teammates.

But to suggest (as some have done) that Bynum hasn’t matured is a mistake. First and foremost, his game has matured. He worked hard to fill out his frame, he worked on drop steps, power moves and more until he is a deserving All-Star center. He even can throw in some threes at the end of quarters or the end of meaningless games — just not early in the shot clock in the third quarter of a tight game.

That is the next step in Bynum’s maturation — picking a time and place. There are times he can take a three and the Lakers coaches will not care. There are times to bark at the opposing bench and times to hold it in. Bynum hasn’t got that timing down.

But Bynum has grown up — he is a complex person, not a two-dimensional NBA player. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more avid reader in the league. He is thoughtful. To every game he wears an English Premiere League soccer jersey because he’s a fan. He is not a simple person.

He has matured. But it remains a “two steps up, one step back” process. As it did with me when I was 24, and it probably was with most of you. He just is doing it on a big stage under bright lights, and so we expect him not to make the mistakes we did.

That’s not going to happen. Mistakes will.

But in the end what is the Lakers real option? They have to pick up his option for next year and work to get him to sign a max extension to stay with the Lakers. He is their bridge to the future. Which gives Bynum real leverage in all this. And young people with leverage can be unpredictable.

Deal with it.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.