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.