We need divisive figures in the NBA. There are so many players that simply are what they are. Lou Amundson, for example. Tim Duncan. Andrei Kirilenko. It’s those other players that make debates fun, and Andrew Bynum is certainly one of them.
We’re entering our sixth season of Bynumite, and we still have little way to determine exactly who he is in the landscape of the NBA. News came out this week that Bynum will likely not be around for the start of the season, meaning he’s missing an expected recovery goal… again. Bynum missed about seven recovery dates in 2008, with a January injury leading to an expected return date of mid-March, to late April, to mid-May, to “eventually.” He returned the next season, and everything was on track again for him to dominate as he’s been expected to for years. Then another injury, followed by missed deadlines, in-between Playboy bunny hoisting events.
Bynum has been criticized consistently since he started to burst on the scene, and for every person to salivate over his size, athleticism and freakish arms, there’s been someone to question his work ethic. Like, oh, say, Tex Winters. So when Bynum suffered yet another knee injury late last year, everyone kind of rolled their eyes, shrugged, and asked what else was on. But then a funny thing happened. He battled through the playoffs and the Finals, dragging that leg around. He was a huge part of the early bursts the Lakers often got out to, and his ability to create mismatches lead to other Lakers having more rest and being able to finish games strong. He was brave, having put his body on the line like that.
So maybe this was a new Bynum!
Or… not. Bynum pushed back surgery so that he could attend the World Cup and a European vacation (with Clark W. Griswold) unencumbered. Phil Jackson said it doesn’t matter if Bynum is ready for the season opener, it matters if he’s ready for April or May. And he most likely will be. This doesn’t have to do with whether Bynum can help the Lakers, he obviously can, he has. It’s a question of whether or not he is what he’s proclaimed to be.
There were discussions headed into that first, injury-destroyed season, of whether Bynum would become the best big man in the NBA. Better than Yao. Better than Dwight Howard. But what no one ever stopped to consider amidst the tremendous length and towering frame, was if Bynum has the work ethic to get there. Our esteemed Blogger-in-Chief Kurt Helin thinks that Bynum’s just a slow-healer. Well there’s slow-healing, and there’s lazy rehabbing, and they’re not the same. If a player wants to get back, we’ve seen them get there. We’ve seen the effort to do what it takes to get back in shape. Yao Ming does it time and time again and has to be restrained from getting on the floor.
Bynum by contrast has pretty much shown a reticence to commit to the process, including sloughing off the Lakers doctors for his own. That’s not that bad of an idea, the Lakers’s staff isn’t exactly put on par with Phoenix’s. But it’s the way in which he went about it, which consistently resonates a reluctance to put the work in.
The next comment that arises is whether he’s just young. After all, Bynum will only turn 23 this season. There’s still plenty of time for him to mature and gain that work ethic we all hope he could have. But this is his sixth season upcoming. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not like a whole lot of personal growth goes on when you shuffle from game to club to hotel to bus to plane to game to club, etc. When exactly is he going to develop into the hard-worker he needs to be to reach the plane his talents would put him at?
This is without talking about Dwight Howard and the fact that every single season, despite already being by far the best center in the NBA, Howard improves. He hasn’t had to deal with significant injury setbacks, but he definitely has put the work in to become a better player each season. Yet we tear down Howard for his lack of a post-game and say “just wait till Bynum develops!”
This isn’t about whether Andrew Bynum is a good player. He is. He’s tall, long, has great touch, tremendous athleticism and is generally a freak of nature. It’s not even really about whether he’s tough. He did drag around that leg through the Finals to help the Lakers reach the summit yet again. It’s about whether we really think he’s going to get to that level we all want to put him on, that top tier of players, the kind of dominant force he’s been predicted to be for years.
Short answer: maybe it’s time we see the work put in before we place the wreath this time. Bynum doesn’t have to work his tail off to be ready for the season opener to be a significant role player on the Lakers. He has to improve his work ethic to be the player the Lakers paid him to be.