12.10.2007

Bus Rider's Pact



Remember last summer? To recap: Kobe freaked out, chiefly because the front office wouldn't part with Andrew Bynum for Baron Davis, Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal, or Kevin Garnett. Then, when he got into camp, he smoothed things over with his teammates—to hear Brian Cook tell it, Bryant was a sweetheart who opened up more than ever. I'd assumed that this was a purely human gesture, as in "it's not your fault you suck." Then, inveterate competitor that he is, Kobe went to war with his guys and was pleasantly surprised when they could hold up their end of the bargain. And, lo and behold, Andrew Bynum periodically plays like a boss.

However, that version of things might give Kobe too much, or too little, credit. If nothing else, Bryant is basketball smart, and having played with a certain prominent center, knows a thing or two about their kind. What if—and I don't think this is too far-fetched—Kobe showed up in camp and noticed a changed Bynum. What if, noted thinker that he is, Bean Thousand realized he was a year away from having a seven-foot sidekick who could take on anyone in his class? Look, there's no way Bryant doesn't understand the importance of centers. If he realized that Andrew Bynum was about to blossom into a worthy assistant, wouldn't that settle all his gripes?



It's pleasant to believe that Kobe reached out to Bynum at the season's start to squash any bad vibes. The young giant may have been at the heart of the summer's controversy, but his importance was largely symbolic. It wasn't really about Andrew Bynum, it was about what it meant that the Lakers kept him. The same way that, when Bryant reached out, it was because Bynum was caught in the middle. More likely: This has always been about Bynum's abilities, and when Kobe saw what the front office saw, he was willing to accept the youngster—as a part of his future, not just a guy hanging out on the roster.

Nate Jones has suggested that Kobe/Bynum is the mirror image of Shaq/Kobe. Kobe's the skeptical vet saddled with a franchise's gamble, just as O'Neal was years ago. Note, though, that Shaq only warmed up at all because his sidekick proved to be a stud. It was conditional and rational all along, and still it ended up flecked with bitterness. This time around, wouldn't you expect nothing less? Before I started writing this, I checked with Kurt to make sure it hadn't already been covered in Lakerland. He pointed out that Kobe's confidence in Bynum would obviously help the kid. Unless Bryant underwent some sort of seismic shift in personality, I don't see him meaningfully bestowing that just to help out.

Kurt recalled Luke Walton saying that when Kobe lost patience, it really lit a fire under Bynum. While there's no way Kobe engineered the whole stunt with this outcome in mind, it does show that Andrew Bynum's development isn't incidental to his could-be mentor.

30 Comments:

At 12/10/2007 9:51 PM, Blogger T. said...

The only two thoughts I have are:

1. Do people really think they still need centers anymore? I mean honestly, who out there that is running the 5 is just killing people? Aside from the Amare/Howard/Yao triumvirate (and Oden next year), there just aren't any centers that are killing people. I mean you can win with a servicable big man like say Nenad Kristic (of 2 years ago) or Diop.

2. I don't know the man, but it never seemed to me that Shaq really based his opinion of people on their on-court abilities. Witness his continual adoption of role players (Travis Knight, Mad-Dog, Derek Fisher, etc.) throughout his career.

WV: stmartvon - St. Martin Von - Kenyon Martin's patron

 
At 12/10/2007 9:51 PM, Blogger Caleb Tyler Adam said...

good idea, but: when did this sudden boost of confidence/recognition of talent in bynum happen for kobe?

i guess what i mean is,

i can't get the specter of the lakers' first game out of my mind.

 
At 12/10/2007 10:12 PM, Blogger Oops Pow Surprise said...

Caleb: Your question supposes there was a sudden boost of confidence and recognition.

 
At 12/10/2007 10:25 PM, Blogger Caleb Tyler Adam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/10/2007 10:26 PM, Blogger Caleb Tyler Adam said...

@ oops:

isn't that sort of what the post said? like this part:

"What if—and I don't think this is too far-fetched—Kobe showed up in camp and noticed a changed Bynum. What if, noted thinker that he is, Bean Thousand realized he was a year away from having a seven-foot sidekick who could take on anyone in his class?"

and this part:

"This has always been about Bynum's abilities, and when Kobe saw what the front office saw, he was willing to accept the youngster..."

maybe i'm missing something.


walqflk: Walton Q. Flicker, what Bill Walton told girls at middle school parties his name was

 
At 12/10/2007 11:54 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

I haven't seen the Lakers play much this year (twice), but both games I saw featured an unseemly amount of whining to the refs by young Mr. Bynum. And, bearing in mind that this was by no means a complete or even thorough sample of his play this season, he played very badly both times. I can't think Kobe would undergo an apostasy about the kid without at least Bynum making the All-Star team; it'd probably take winning a ring together.

Sorry for the pessimism. 24 is a demanding demi-god.

 
At 12/11/2007 1:29 AM, Blogger alex said...

T.: I couldn't agree more. Look at Josh Smith's numbers from their win against the magic; 25 points, 16 boards, 4 steals, 5 assists, and 4 blocks!

 
At 12/11/2007 1:49 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Good Christ. I had that game streaming on my desktop the whole second half, and somehow didn't realize that was going on. Proof either that watching ball on a laptop SUCKS or that everything I preach is a lie.

 
At 12/11/2007 2:41 AM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

It's the former. Fuck checking for steroids, someone needs to see if Josh Smith is Neo.

 
At 12/11/2007 4:41 AM, Blogger Kaifa said...

Applause for the elephant pic.

Bynum getting to the level he is playing at now does make a tremendous difference from what I've seen. Especially on the defensive end the pieces fall into place when he's a threat as a shot blocker. No way they're as effective with Kwame or Mihm back there.

I'd also say that Bynum has earned a lot of trust to get touches in the post. He's still quite mechanical when he doesn't have a good angle on the catch, but he's a great target to get the ball and the defensive rotations moving.

Also, Kobe sometimes seems to get out of his way to feed Bynum, especially on his drives to the basket. The kind of plays where he draws two defenders under the backboard and wraps a pass to his C have been almost non-existent since the earlier Shaq-Kobe years.

 
At 12/11/2007 3:11 PM, Blogger The wondering Mind said...

Kaifa,

South African for Nigga? or is that incorrect?

 
At 12/11/2007 3:20 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I like the mirror-image theory. I jibes with Kobe the Calculator, who might well have looked at his team in training camp and thought, "This isn't so different from the team I started on, only I'm Shaq and Bynum is me. If I wait a couple seasons, Phil stays, and the front office doesn't screw up, we can compete." (Where "not screw up" = either grow a couple guys into the Fox/Horry/Harper roles, or pick them up as free agents when available.)

T, aren't the Spurs a team running the five that's just killing people?



ssiib: social security is an illusion bygone

And Phil has said that, as well at the triangle worked with MJ, it works better with a legit center.

 
At 12/11/2007 3:24 PM, Blogger The wondering Mind said...

Kaifa,

Sorry that word is Kaffa, did not mean to offend. Thought it sounded familiar.

 
At 12/11/2007 5:21 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

@ wondering mind: no offense taken. Hadn't considered this similarity, but it definitely doesn't have to do with Kaffa. It's just derived from my real first and second name and a way less spectacular alter ego than others on here have.

 
At 12/11/2007 8:31 PM, Blogger kahris10 said...

In response to the first comment, you forgot about Duncan and Marcus Camby. You can say Camby is not dominant all you want but look at his BPG and his rebounds... He dominates those statistics almost every game. Also Rasheed Wallace is listed as a F/C and I'd say 'sheed is pretty damn good.

 
At 12/11/2007 8:42 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

Right on the money. I've maintained these feelings too. Only, although Bynum might be in the middle, the other teammates, who were collateral damage, have improved also. Now, in a world of politics, Kobe is screwed. Perception is reality. There is no way that now, with the Lakers playing well, and looking for real, that Kobe can risk his legacy anymore, by going to another team and starting over, and possibly watching Bynum turn into what the front office thought he would be, thus making Kobe look like a cancer, and not taking HIS team sans Shaq to the promised land, while never matching Shaq's 4th ring. (oh by the way, LeBron made it to the Finals, with a JV team) Kobe is a Laker lifer now. Whether he really wants to be or not. He understands the big picture. Legacy. Politics, as well as better play, has made the change in demeanor. He's out of moves.

 
At 12/11/2007 8:44 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

Right on the money. I've maintained these feelings too. Only, although Bynum might be in the middle, the other teammates, who were collateral damage, have improved also. Now, in a world of politics, Kobe is screwed. Perception is reality. There is no way that now, with the Lakers playing well, and looking for real, that Kobe can risk his legacy anymore, by going to another team and starting over, and possibly watching Bynum turn into what the front office thought he would be, thus making Kobe look like a cancer, and not taking HIS team sans Shaq to the promised land, while never matching Shaq's 4th ring. (oh by the way, LeBron made it to the Finals, with a JV team) Kobe is a Laker lifer now. Whether he really wants to be or not. He understands the big picture. Legacy. Politics, as well as better play, has made the change in demeanor. He's out of moves.

 
At 12/11/2007 8:50 PM, Blogger kahris10 said...

(still in response to the first comment) So you're saying, "I mean honestly, who out there that is running the 5 is just killing people? Aside from the Amare/Howard/Yao." You just mentioned three elite teams (Houston maybe not so much but still above average in a tough western conference) and I named two more elite teams (Duncan with the Spurs and 'sheed/Pistons) and another above average team in the western conference (Camby/Nuggets). For the sake of elite teams, the remaining that don't have a dominant big man would be... the Celtics (who have a Big Three so there is no need for a dominant 5) the Jazz (Boozer plays like a center and then some with his outside shot. Just look at last years playoffs, Boozer guarded a 7-6 Yao...) and the Mavs (They, as you mentioned, have a serviceable Diop and a 7 foot forward in Dirk.) So I think in terms of elite teams, it is pretty even when looking at who has a good 5 (PHX, SAS, ORL) and who doesn't (DAL, BOS, UTA). I left out DET because sheed could be either. But to be honest, (and I hate the Spurs) look at San antonio with their hardware and L.A. with their Hardware (two dynasty type teams) and tell me that those 5's were not involved in those championships...

 
At 12/11/2007 8:50 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

Twice was nice, but unintended.

 
At 12/11/2007 10:03 PM, Blogger T. said...

Odd, I thought I posted something.

Anyways, mine was really an off-hand comment. I was just thinking night in and night out, the really dangerous players in the league are the scoring wings - almost every team has a 2/3 who is pouring in 20 ppg. I just don't feel like it's the late 80s/early 90s when every night you had a Hakeem/Shaq/Ewing/David Robinson and then on the 2nd tier (which is where the depth is apparent) the Daugherty, Divac, Duckworth (dude could play), Cartwright, Donaldson, Sikma level of play. Really for all the praise for Bynum - how is he really playing this year? 10.9 and 9.7? let me compare to another 3rd year center from the annals of NBA history who average 13.0 and 8.8 in his third year. (That'd be Benoit Benjamin).
You really think KB24 is excited to play with the next Benoit?


and Mr. Six - Cal grad I may be, but I'd never submit that Francisco Elson is killing anyone. (Duncan wants to be known as a 4, I will honor his wishes)

 
At 12/11/2007 10:11 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

T: Nuts to that.

 
At 12/12/2007 2:02 AM, Blogger T. said...

mr. six: it's what it sezs on this here NBA All Star ballot.

 
At 12/12/2007 2:14 AM, Blogger dsnow6 said...

In response to "T's" post:
1) Yes you HAVE to have a center to win still.. Go through the champions. since the Bulls won and you'll find that the only one that didn't have a dominant center was the Pistons the year the Lakers had all the off court turmoil. Shaq/Duncan are both post players who won ALL the other titles. The Bulls were the exception because they had 3 Hall of Fame players on one team in their primes.

2) Shaq liked guys like Madsen because they were role players. Otherwise, as he showed with Orlando and the Lakers, he's willing to leave town even if it means downgrading in talent.

 
At 12/12/2007 4:19 AM, Blogger T. said...

dsnow6: You can't just rationalize away the instances of teams without dominant centers.

Does that mean the 90s Pistons don't count because they had the best pure point guard of all time? Does the 1988 Laker team with an aging Kareem not count because they had one of the best 3 players ever? Robert Parish was good - but he wasn't dominant. Jack Sikma?

I can buy the argument that a great center helps you win championships. But I don't see that a dominant center = championship team causality. Hakeem never won until Jordan retired. Robinson never won until joined by the best power forward of all time. Wilt never won until he joined forces with West and Goodrich.

A dominant center helps you win yes. But is it necessary? I'm not buying it.

 
At 12/12/2007 10:29 AM, Blogger EMC said...

"Wilt never won until he joined forces with West and Goodrich."

Huh? What about Philadelphia '67? Wilt, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Matt Guokas ... Helluva team, but Wilt dominated.

swwvrbbg: Sweet West Virginia! Bynum's blocks per game!

 
At 12/12/2007 10:38 AM, Blogger wondahbap said...

hey t. ?

I doubt that any of those players were 3rd year pros at 20 years old either, as Bynum is.

 
At 12/12/2007 11:35 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Wait, the 1988-1990 Pistons did not have a decent center?

So 15-10, with more assists than TOs, 1 block a game, 50% shooting, 35% from 3, and a 90% FT shooter isn't a respectable center?

Someone also forgot that Laimbeer was a 4-time all-star.


As for the 2004 team, they did have Wallace, who was a perennial all-star and the best defensive player in the league over that stretch. So while they didn't get much O from him, they got a ton of D and offensive rebounding. (Basically, they had a Rodman at center)

 
At 12/12/2007 1:26 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I've read a lot about Kobe and Shaq's early relationship (from a couple of Lazenby's books, mainly) and it seems like the real problem they had was that Kobe didn't respect Shaq because Shaq was not a hard worker like Kobe was, and Shaq didn't respect Kobe because Kobe thought he was better than the "MDE". Supposedly some of Kobe's frustrations with Bynum have been similar to those he had with Shaq: that he wasn't a hard worker. However, Bynum seems to have put that all to rest with his well-documented off-season workout regimen, and Kobe has taken particular notice of how hard Bynum now works, making a point to talk about it to the media, saying it's often just the two of them alone who are there in the gym early or late.

Last year Bynum just represented potential, and Kobe didn't want to keep seeing his team's front office passing up proven All-Stars like Kidd for young guys with potential. This year Bynum still represents potential, but he also represents something else in the form of actual dominance and matchup problems for other teams at times. For instance, Bynum did to the Warriors the other night what last year's Mavericks could not do: he forced Nellie away from his small-ball gameplan. Nellie was getting killed by using Biedrins and Harrington to guard Bynum, so he had to take those guys out in favor of little-used Mbenga to try to get a hold of Bynum, who had 15 first half points (and finished with 20 pts, 11 boards & 5 blocks).

Kobe's been wanting a legit second scorer on the team, and Lamar Odom clearly is never going to be that guy, and that was the root of Kobe's frustration. However, with Bynum he sees a guy who almost surely will be that second scorer either later this year or next season and beyond. In addition to that he looks around at his team and sees players who are actually playing well on a consistent basis and who have good upside because they're so young (Farmar and Ariza in particular). Odom may not be that 2nd scorer to mesh well with Kobe's game, but Odom is a very good third option and he still can get you 10 boards and 5 assists a game even if he's not scoring. At the very least Odom could be traded for a pretty quality player to help fill some other need if that's what the team feels would be best.

In short, I think Kobe looks around and thinks the Lakers actually do have a bright future and that his chances of winning a title would probably be worse if he went elsewhere, unless he jumped onto the coattails of some other currently elite team (Spurs, Mavs, etc). Kobe has money and he has championships already, what he cares about now is his legacy, and I think he sees with Bynum and the rest of his teammates that he can finally have a shot to lead a team to the title, and he can do it with the team he started his pro career with. In that way he has become what Shaq was a few years after he signed with the Lakers, back when Shaq would kick in lockers and knock over TVs when the Lakers were eliminated, and who would go to management and demand that players like Nick Van Exel be traded. Kobe desperately wants to win, and he wants to do so on a team that is clearly his team. With Bynum's improvement, the Lakers appear to be the front runners to be that team.

One more thing about Bynum: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was interviewed during the Lakers-Warriors game the other night and he pointed out that Bynum has only been playing basketball for 5 years. In this way Bynum's early relationship with the game is not much different than Tim Duncan's, who only started playing the game at age 14/15. Duncan went to Wake Forrest for 4 years and got fully educated on the game there and hit the NBA full force as an incredibly talented, incredibly fundamental player. Bynum didn't go to college, but he has been personally tutored by Kareem ever since he's been with the Lakers, meaning that for about half of his basketball life he's been tutored by possibly the greatest center of all time. Not next season, but the season after in 2009-2010 Bynum will be the same age as Duncan was when he was a rookie, and will presumably have 4 full years of Kareem's personal tutelage under his belt. Who knows what the ceiling could be for Bynum, especially with a teammate like Kobe who at that point will be younger than Allen Iverson is now.

 
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