Longtime Newark Star-Ledger columnist and possible Greatest Sportswriter Ever Dave D’Allesandro is always quick to trump up the merits of his Jersey Guys. The NBA is full of them, both in the playing and coaching ranks, and Andrew Bynum is still technically one of those Jersey Guys – even if he won’t play a single minute in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey during 2012-13.
Critics of Andrew Bynum aren’t hard to find. I rail against the guy constantly for his dangerous and stupid habits behind the wheel (driving on the wrong side of the road in order to illegally pass people, parking in handicapped spots while healthy), and others have gone after him for his iffy rehabilitation efforts or needless flagrant fouls. Dave D, in his latest column, dug a little deeper than that – talking to Bynum’s former high school coach and the athletics director of St. Joseph of Metuchen in order to draw up a little more dirt on a player who chooses not to be associated with his alma mater:
"Everyone here at school says the same thing: What’s wrong with him? Why does he act like that?" says St. Joe’s athletic director Jerry Smith. "He went from someone we’re proud of to someone whose name we don’t even mention anymore."
Bynum’s coach during his Falcons years — that would be 2003-05, his junior and senior seasons — sounds as though he is under no urgent obligation to defend him, because he’s gone seven years without even being asked to give an assessment of any kind about his former center.
"Yeah, I never respond to that kind of request, because Andrew has chosen not to stay in touch for whatever reason, so I just don’t get involved with it," says Mark Taylor, who now coaches the St. Benedict's Prep powerhouse. "I don’t dislike him, and he’ll continue to do well if he can stay healthy, but I’m sure he’s got people who will guide him in times like this."
We’re all allowed the right to turn our back on whatever institution we choose – I live in the same town as the high school I graduated from and I’m not exactly pumping the red and black pom-poms of my Jefferson High School Bronchos. Andrew Bynum is a busy 25-year old professional that spent all but one of his seven NBA seasons playing out of Los Angeles, kinda far from Joisey, and his seventh season has been mostly confined to the Philadelphia 76ers’ rehabilitation center.
With that in place, how far do we have to go to find one person with anything nice to say about this guy?
We’ve spent all year piling on Andrew, and are hesitant to add to the chorus that Dave D describes as referring to Bynum as “a feckless clod victimized by his own negligence,” but this is also the gentleman that decided to take his skinned-up knees bowling last fall, possibly ending his season in the process.
Working at an NBA level with a lacking amount of cartilage in your knees is an incredibly painful situation, especially for someone Bynum’s height and weight. Still, it nearly goes without saying that he’s going to have to come through with an awfully impressive 2013-14 season (with whatever team signs him this summer) for us to re-think our perception that Andrew Bynum only maybe kinda sorta likes the game of basketball.
This will not stop teams, possibly including the 76ers, from throwing huge gobs of money at Bynum this summer when he becomes a free agent. There are plenty of teams out there with the cap space and assets in place to make an attempt happen, and while they won’t be throwing a complete and total max contract at Andrew, they will probably pay the max amount in 2013-14 (and possibly the year after) for the right to throw a full max deal at Bynum in a few years, should he return to full health and re-stake his claim as the NBA’s second-best center.
Bynum’s former high school coach went on to defend the big man as “leery” of all the early attention he received as a teenager, and understands Bynum’s cool attitude toward those looking for handouts. St. Joe’s AD Jerry Smith isn’t looking for handouts, though. Just the recognition from his former player that, yeah, Andrew Bynum used to go to his school.
"But he hasn’t exactly been a warm presence," Smith says. "We thought he’d be a lot different, that’s all. We all understand sports figures — wary of people asking for money and all that — but we don’t need money, we raise our own. It would just be nice if he came by now that he’s so close. It would be great for our kids to see him. But I’m not holding my breath."
We’re still holding our breath. When he’s engaged and inspired, Andrew Bynum can be a dominant force and one of the NBA’s more entertaining players. We just wouldn’t mind putting a cap on stories like this, as his lost year dwindles to a close.