If you thought the Shaq vs. Kobe fallout was ugly, get ready for Bynum vs. Bryant.
As a die-hard Lakers fan I hope I'm wrong here, but I see some pretty nasty-looking purple-and-gold colored storm clouds on the horizon. Kobe is the lightning, and Andrew Bynum is the thunder.
I hope what I am seeing and inferring about the Lakers present and future is a bit of a Chicken Little reaction, but I've been burned before when Shaq and Kobe couldn't figure out how to coexist in 2004. Now, in 2012, history could unfortunately be repeating itself in Tinseltown. Here is why:
Andrew Bynum is Dominating
Imagine, for a moment, that you are Andrew Bynum. You just made your first NBA All-Star team. NBA experts are legitimately debating whether they would take you or Dwight Howard to build a franchise around. You have won two NBA titles. You have just set career-highs in points (18.6) and rebounds (12.2) and have a career 56.6% field goal percentage. You are among the NBA's Top-10 this season in rebounds (third), field goal percentage (fourth), and blocks (seventh). Oh, yeah, and you also have the highest "clutch" shooting percentage in the entire league this year according to 82games.com.
And you're only 24 years old.
For the first time in your career, you are being told you are great. You are a franchise player. You have the ability to supplant Dwight Howard as the NBA's best big man. You, as Andrew Bynum, have grown in your own mind from the teen-aged "man-child" to "THE MAN!"
But as long as you play in Los Angeles, you will always play second fiddle to Kobe Bryant. And Kobe plays his fiddle is so loud and so long and to such an adoring audience, your fiddle is hard to hear. In fact, your fiddle is actually just a cardboard stage prop with no strings attached to it.
No matter what you do, the Lakers will always be about Kobe, all the time, and this does not sit well with you as Andrew Bynum because you want to become "THE MAN!" But at the same time you are trying to become "THE MAN!", you are still acting like a child.
Andrew Bynum's Immaturity
The more Andrew Bynum develops as a player, the more petulant he becomes as a person. The combination of Bynum's stellar play and his immature antics are as certain to yield a toxic explosion as a poorly-supervised eighth-grade Chemistry experiment.
Bynum missed the first four games of the 2012 season due to his suspension from the cheap shot he delivered to the Dallas Mavericks J.J. Barea in the final game of the Mavs' playoffs sweep of the Lakers last year.
Andrew Bynum was recently benched by coach Mike Brown for jacking up a "me-first" three-pointer against the Golden State Warriors, a shot completely out of Bynum's range. So how did the Lakers young big man react to getting benched? He first refused to join the team's huddles then after reflecting on the benching he selfishly said the message from coach Brown was, "I don't know what was bench-worthy about the shot, to be honest with you...I guess don't take 3's is the message. But I'm going to take some more. I just hope it's not the same result."
Bynum handled the benching as maturely as a grounded teen-ager who responds to his parents by rolling his eyes and huffing, "What-EVER!" Not exactly a franchise-player response from Bynum in this situation.
Andrew Bynum has become more snippy on the court this year and was recently ejected for taunting the Houston Rockets' bench, and his dismissal likely cost the Lakers a win. Bynum's reaction to the ejection? According to ESPN.com he said, "I don't have any regrets. Stuff happens." Again, this is a troubling, immature response from the Lakers next franchise player.
If Bynum's performance continues to improve as quickly as his maturity declines, it is only a matter of time before he officially starts making immature, selfish demands to become "THE MAN" in Los Angeles, and that will never happen as long as Kobe wears the purple and gold.
And what makes me the most nervous is that Andrew Bynum is currently getting a taste of life without Kobe.
You see, Kobe Bryant has missed the last five Lakers games due to a shin injury, and Andrew Bynum's life without Kobe must taste sweeter to him than a box of warm Krispy Kreme donuts tasted to Shaquille O'Neal every offseason.
Bynum's Life Without Kobe
Much to Andrew Bynum's benefit, Kobe has sat the last five games. And when Kobe sits, it means the Black Mamba's 23.2 shot attempts and 28.1 points need to be replaced by someone.
Enter Andrew Bynum.
Andrew Bynum has seen his shots per game jump from 12.5 per contest before Kobe's injury to 21.4 over the past five games with Kobe sitting. Without Kobe, Andrew Bynum's scoring has increased from 18.3 to 22.0 PPG. His rebounding has spiked from 11.8 to 16.6, including a 30-board monstrosity against the San Antonio Spurs, as Bynum has become the centerpiece of the Lakers game plan.
In 51 games playing with Kobe Bryant this year, Andrew Bynum only attempted 17 shots six times. In five games without Kobe, Bynum has attempted at least 17 field goals in every game, including a season-high 27 shots in the first game Kobe missed.
If Andrew Bynum wants to become "THE MAN!" in Los Angeles, he isn't going to get there on 12.5 shots per game, his average with Kobe on the floor this year. When you are "THE MAN!" you deserve the 21.4 shots you have been getting without Kobe hogging the ball on almost every possession.
Oh, and by the way, the Lakers are winning while featuring Andrew Bynum. So far the Lakers are 4-1 without Kobe, including impressive victories over the Spurs, Mavericks, and Nuggets.
It is not out of the realm of possibility for a dominant, successful, and immature Andrew Bynum to soon approach the Lakers brass with that awful ultimatum last heard in 2004 - "It's either me or him. Make your choice."
Shaq vs. Kobe - In Reverse
In many respects, the potential Bynum vs. Bryant showdown could shape up to be exactly like the Shaq vs. Kobe nuclear war in 2004, only with Kobe's role being reversed this time. In 2004 Kobe was the young stud and former teen-age prodigy who wanted to free himself from a dominant, but declining, superstar teammate.
This time, Kobe is Shaq. Today's Andrew Bynum is yesteryear's Kobe Bryant.
One thing is for sure though: Kobe Bryant will not cede the reins to the Lakers franchise anytime soon. He's too proud. He's too focused. He's too invested. He's too competitive. He still has too many good years left in the tank.
It is inevitable that Andrew Bynum's rise will coincide with Kobe Bryant's eventual decline. Lakers fans are praying that both Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant can learn the hard lessons from the Shaq vs. Kobe disaster and find a way to coexist.
Hopefully, this time the gathering storm clouds of conflict over Los Angeles will disperse, and the bright California sun will continues to shine over Tinseltown for years to come.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Lakers fan. More from this author: