Sunday evening when the Los Angeles Lakers faced off with the Philadelphia 76ers, current 76ers eccentric (and injured) center Andrew Bynum spoke to the media about his tenure in Los Angeles, claiming that playing alongside Kobe Bryant stunted his growth as a player. Yeah, right.
Let’s take a second and examine the player/person that Andrew Bynum has presented himself to be over the years. Bynum was drafted 10th overall out of high school to develop into the Lakers’ center of the future after a promising high school career in New Jersey. Bynum was also only 17 years old at the time, making him the youngest player to ever appear in an NBA game (Bynum turned 18 just six days before his NBA debut.)
Nonetheless, the Lakers all but handed Bynum the inside track to one of the most storied positions in the NBA; starting center for the Los Angeles Lakers. The same position that has been held by legends such as George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal. The position was his for the taking; all the 18-year old Bynum was required to do was stay healthy and mature as a professional. Easier said than done.
Bynum’s rookie season was for the most part a dud, but he provided flashes of potential in his sophomore campaign, averaging 7.8 points per game and 6.0 rebounds while playing in all 82 contests with 53 starts. Not bad for a 19 year-old seven-footer that was still learning the game at an NBA level. His next season was even more impressive (13.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg) until the injury bug bit Bynum again, prompting questions if Bynum would ever be able to remain on the floor enough to be more of an asset to the Lakers than liability.
Not only was Bynum oft-injured, he also reportedly had a lot of maturing to undergo during his tenure with the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar questioned Bynum’s work ethic and ability to take instructions. Bynum received numerous traffic tickets while in Los Angeles for parking in handicap spaces.
Last season, by far Bynum’s best as a pro where he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, his maturity again came into question. He took an ill-advised three-pointer with plenty of time on the shot clock in the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors, prompting Mike Brown to bench him. Cameras caught Bynum chuckling after Blake Griffin posterized Bynum’s then-teammate Pau Gasol.
Bynum’s antics with the Sixers to date leave much to be desired as well. Bynum has become known more for his outlandish hairstyles than for his basketball skill, since Bynum has yet to participate in a single practice with the Sixers. Bynum even injured his left knee while bowling during a period when he was supposed to be rehabbing and has also been spotted goofing around Philly. His entire demeanor since the Lakers traded him to Philly screams of a player that just doesn’t care right now.
Now, this isn’t to take anything away from Bynum the basketball player. The kid is talented. It’s rare to find legit seven-footers with Bynum’s footwork, strength and touch around the basket. But at 25 and still showing flashes of irresponsibility after seven seasons, it’s becoming difficult to see Bynum as ever reaching his full potential of being a dominant, perennial NBA All-Star. Dwight Howard may be a bit more of a fun-loving character than Bryant may prefer, but Howard has at least worked his way back to the court despite undergoing surgery on back in April. The same can’t be said for Bynum.
Kobe Bryant’s high-volume of shots isn’t to blame for stunting Bynum’s growth as a player. Andrew Bynum himself is. Bynum should look in the mirror and decide if he really wants to be great or just another “coulda-shoulda been”.