COMMENTARY | Andrew Bynum doesn't have a lot of friends in and around Los Angeles outside of some of his former teammates. Though he was part of the trade that brought in Dwight Howard after having his best season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, fans grew tired of his act.
Those antics are well-documented. Ill-advised 3-pointers, a reluctance to participate in team huddles, lack of effort and a chronic mishandling of injuries that delayed his recovery time all didn't sit well with a lot of the purple and gold faithful.
But one thing Bynum has always been is candid. He's a good interview because he's raw, often unfiltered and truthful. You won't get a cookie-cutter answer from the 7-footer, ever. Case in point was when he told reporters (via Yahoo! Sports) that playing with Bryant could hinder a young player's development:
"I thought (playing with Bryant) really helped me a lot obviously at first, because he draws so much attention it's hard for guys to double team and key on you, so it helped me tremendously," Bynum said. "Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth."
He didn't make much controversy with these remarks, especially because he was asked the question specifically, but it's easy to dismiss the remarks from someone who draws such ire from frustrated L.A. stakeholders who saw what was in their minds so much wasted talent.
But what if Bynum is right to a degree? In the small sample size of two full games without the Black Mamba, it's already trending that way.
The caveat here is that the Lakers are in no way better without Bryant on the floor, despite being 3-1 without him this season. What they look like, however, is a cohesive group that is forced into utilizing every player's strengths to the fullest in order to grind out wins against teams they struggled against early on.
In those two key games without Bryant, Steve Blake has emerged and shown that he can be a viable starting point guard while notching his best games of the season during that stretch. He scored 23 points on Sunday, April 14, against the Spurs and parlayed that into a new season-high 24 points in a critical game against the Rockets days later on April 17.
Pau Gasol, who somehow couldn't crack head coach Mike D'Antoni's starting rotation months ago, has had two triple-doubles in the past three games, prompting Bryant himself to release this gem on Twitter:
"Can the talk of trading @paugasol come to a cease now?"
-- @kobebryant, April 17
Unfortunately, the answer is no, but that's for another column.
And then there's Dwight Howard, who with the weight of the world on his one-and-a-half shoulders, has shown focus and determination reminiscent of No. 24. He understands the major implications of being effectively given this storied franchise to lead, and he's relished the opportunity thus far, albeit in a small sample size of just two full games.
Howard's greatest contribution to these Lakers, or any team for that matter, will be on the defensive end. He's said it himself, and the proof is in the win column. When he and the Lakers dominate the way they're capable of on that end of the floor -- Howard had seven blocked shots, five steals, and an astounding 26 defensive rebounds in the last two games -- the Lakers go from being a horrendous defensive team to one capable of holding the league's highest scoring team to under 100 points, in overtime no less.
That's playoff-caliber basketball, without Kobe Bryant.
With all of that in mind, Bynum is partially correct. Bryant dominates the ball, often causing other players to get out of rhythm and stagnant. But the truth is that Bryant is smart enough to recognize when this is happening and make adjustments to get his teammates involved.
It's not by accident that when it seemed he would compete for the scoring title earlier in the year, he shifted into the facilitator role and has matched his career-high in assists per game of 6.0 because that's what the team needed him to do.
The proof of all of it will play out on the court, and such is the beauty of sports. If the Lakers get dominant performances from their bigs and complementary players in defeat of the Spurs, then it will bring up a serious conversation as to just how correct Bynum was.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Andrew Bynum
- Kobe Bryant