Five years in, we still don't have a lock on Andrew Bynum

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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.

Dwight Howard reportedly to return to Washington D.C., start on-court steps in recovery

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The return of Dwight Howard should solve all the Wizards problems…

Low hanging fruit jokes aside, Howard was expected to be out two-to-three months for back surgery that happened at the end of November, that would have him back in the coming weeks, and he is now on his way back to the nation’s capital, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Howard played in nine games for the Wizards this season, scoring an efficient 12.8 points and grabbing 9.2 rebounds a game.

The Wizards have been starting Thomas Bryant, with Bobby Portis playing some five behind him, in recent games. How Howard fits into that when healthy will be a question for coach Scott Brooks.

The Wizards would need to make up three games and jump three teams in the final 24 games of the season to make the playoffs.

Surprise: Emanuel Terry joins Heat, not Team USA as planned

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MIAMI (AP) — Emanuel Terry’s plans to play for his country this weekend have been thwarted, for a very good reason.

He’s back in the NBA instead.

Terry was signed to a 10-day contract Wednesday by the Miami Heat, who made the move after he spent a few days with USA Basketball in its training camp at the University of Miami this week. So instead of playing Panama on Friday and Argentina on Monday in the last games of qualifying for the FIBA World Cup, Terry will be with the Sioux Falls Skyforce for a G League game in Long Island on Thursday and then with the Heat this weekend.

Terry got told of the move just before Team USA broke camp in Miami. He says he’s “had dreams about this.”

Terry averaged 4.5 points in two games with Phoenix earlier this season.

Team USA has already won enough games to qualify for the World Championships in China this summer.

Joel Embiid out week with left knee soreness, no structural damage found

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What the Philadelphia 76ers need is time on the court to get all their new players used to each other, their rotations set, and just to find a way to get the most talented starting five in the East to gel before the playoffs start. They have 24 games to make it happen.

This does not help that cause.

The Sixers announced Joel Embiid will miss at least a week to get treatment on a sore left knee, the team announced. Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the details.

Embiid felt some soreness and was getting treatment before the All-Star break but did not miss games.

Obviously, what matters most is Embiid being healthy in the postseason, so rest now is better than the alternative.

But this is still not ideal. Especially as the Sixers try to make up a game and climb past the Pacers to ensure home court in the first round of the playoffs.

Through four games (73 total minutes) the new starting lineup of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Embiid has been a force — a 116.5 offensive rating and a 91.9 defensive rating. Small sample size theater is at play here, things have not always looked completely smooth to the eye test (see the loss to Boston), and both Butler and Embiid have chaffed against coach Brett Brown’s system at points this season, but a +24.6 net rating through four games is an auspicious sign.

They just need more time to come together, and this injury cuts into that. At least a little.

The more significant concern starts when the bench comes into play. In the playoffs, Brown will likely want to keep two of his big four on the court with the subs (probably an eight-man rotation, nine tops). That’s where the real interesting stuff comes in the next few weeks: Which players would be willing to get their rest a little earlier in the first half to get more opportunities (read: shots) with the ball in their hands with the second unit? Butler? Harris? Which four work best together when it gets down to pairs?

Finding all of that out is now on hold temporarily.

Not just numbers, David Griffin says being GM means handling “noise” around team

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Analytics are a part of the job.

Just often not the most important part.

Part of what has fueled the rise in popularity of the NBA in recent years has been player movement around the league — and how much fans love to talk about the possibilities. Fans love to play GM. Those fans are increasingly savvy and understand analytics better, they know how to go to the NBA stat page and look up detailed data, and they know how to work ESPN’s trade machine. It leads to more “who says no?” trade Tweets than overpriced coffee shops in Seattle.

Ask any current or former general manager/team president — for example, former Suns and Cavaliers GM David Griffin — about the job and they almost cut off the question to say there is so much more to it than a spreadsheet. For example, keeping players happy and helping them understand/deal with social media is now part of the gig. Even in the evaluation of players, there is the eye test and other intel gathered about them, all of which matters as much or more than just the data.

“It’s got to be a marriage of all of them, you know analytics are never the answer in and of themselves,” Griffin told NBC Sports. “But there is infinitely more data available to us thanks not only to SAP but Second Spectrum… they have given us far more robust data sets to make decisions from. I think because of that people think the answers are in the numbers, but the reality is the numbers only answer the better questions you ask it to solve. I think people lose sight of that. The numbers are a part of the process, they are not the answers in and of themselves.”

That’s the idea behind “GM School,” a new competition show coming to NBA TV (it premieres Wednesday night at 8 ET, with repeat broadcasts throughout the week). The show takes four contestants who are data-driven, die-hard basketball fans and pits them against each other in a series of challenges to show they have what it takes to be in a front office. The contestants don’t just have to pick players to draft (out of an anonymous pool), they need to articulate why they fit with the team philosophy. They have to do a press conference.

“I thought they did an excellent job,” Griffin said of the contestants. “Being at NBA TV before this and getting to see things in a totally different light, I had a different appreciation for this process than I would have otherwise. I thought they did a fantastic job — SAP and the partners affiliated with this — of putting together four really diverse contestants who all had strengths of their own, each was unique from the other, so it was a cool process.”

Like the real GM job, this is about more than the numbers.

“It’s not just taking into account everyone thinks they understand analytics — I hope we speak to the analytics crowd — but it’s about the totality, we hope, of what the job requires,” Griffin said.

There are things that a show like this could just not do justice to with a test.

For example, how to set up an organization that can handle the volume of noise that swirls around a good team. Griffin had to deal with that first hand as the GM of the Cavaliers during LeBron James’ second tour of duty with the franchise.

“One of the things that’s critical to running an organization that’s going to be all about winning — and the only thing that will mark success is winning a championship — is that you’re naturally going to be subjected to more noise around the process,” Griffin said. There’s going to be more tension in the system — and that can be a positive thing if you make it out. You have to become really adept at dealing with adversity and turning adversity into a positive, galvanizing force.

“I think you’ve seen Golden State do that this year with the blowup between Draymond [Green] and KD [Kevin Durant]. They’ve come out of that a stronger, better version of themselves, and that’s what you have to do as an elite franchise. All adversity becomes opportunity for you.”

It’s one thing for a Warriors’ team that is now veteran and savvy to embrace adversity — and tune out the social media noise it creates around the team — and it’s something else entirely for an up-and-coming team with players who have not been there before.

“I think that for teams that are going from being lottery bound year after year to being truly elite there are several steps in that process that are very difficult and painful. And people don’t always welcome adversity…” Griffin said. “You’re not going to get to a championship caliber team from a team of young kids who were in the lottery overnight.”

Some players get thrown off seeing the media used to deliver messages about them and their trade availability — as happened a lot with the Lakers/Anthony Davis saga around the trade deadline, for example. The Lakers, as an organization, has seen more than its fair share of drama over the years and understands how to handle it, but the young core players on the team were going through this part of the business for the first time.

Griffin said the key is being proactive — talking to players to help them understand it before everything overwhelms them.

“[The Lakers] were dealing with more media and more scrutiny than most teams ever do because they are one of the flagship franchises in our league,” Griffin said. “Magic Johnson grew up in that spotlight. I doubt anything happened that they weren’t prepared for. But what happens is LeBron’s presence by itself brings that kind of spotlight. It takes some time to learn how to deal with it.

“Again, if you don’t get in front of it from a leadership standpoint, if you let it just happen, the proliferation of sports media and social media, it just creates so much around your players that, to some degree, if you’re not telling them how to decipher it, they can’t help but to take it poorly. You need to do a really deft job as a leader of getting people to ignore those things. I think Kevin Durant called it a ‘toxic’ environment around a LeBron James team. I don’t think he meant that relative to LeBron and his actions. I think he meant it just relative to the sheer volume of noise around a team. That takes getting used to.”

Handling social media and its fallout is now part of a GM’s job. Like it or not.

“All of these players are on social media, they are subject to noise from more angles and at a greater volume than any players ever have been,” Griffin said. “And because of that, I think it makes it really important that you run the kind of organization that you love each other enough that you tell each other what you need to hear. You have to have conversations. You have to be in front of those messages with Lonzo Ball ahead of time. You have to talk to Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma ahead of time. So that when those things happen, they understand it’s just a natural outcropping of being on a team of that magnitude. That it happens because you matter as a franchise.”

Whenever a GM job comes open in the NBA now, Griffin’s name is one of the first to come up. Most recently that was with the Pelicans (although the buzz All-Star Weekend is that things never really got too serious between the sides). Griffin is open to returning to the NBA, but he’s in a position to be picky about the gig he takes now.

“I think the blessing of doing what I’m doing relative to NBA TV is selectivity,” Griffin said. “It’s helped me be radically better at analyzing things than maybe I wouldn’t have been as good at. As I look at it now, the thing that would attract me to an opportunity is just the opportunity to be in lockstep with ownership. To have ownership, the coach, and the front office all on the same page moving forward and sharing a vision…

“You have to raise a family, and if you’re not going to come at it with that approach it’s probably not a situation that would speak to me.”