I’m running out of excuses. I’m also running out of patience.
The latest chapter in the Andrew Bynum melodrama unfolded Friday night when he was ejected from the game against the Houston Rockets. Other than the obvious post-game headache for Mike Brown and the rest of the coaching staff, the ejection ended up being problematic for the Lakers on the court, as they desperately missed their second-leading scorer in a five-point loss.
So who’s to blame?
As I scanned the post-game comments and various opinions on Bynum’s apparent incessant need to cause problems, I’ve noticed my opinion on the situation begin to change. Many are claiming it’s simply immaturity that is behind Bynum’s recent string of bad decisions. I’m not so sure.
Andrew Bynum is 24 years-old. He’s no hardened veteran with three decades of life experience and 10-plus years in the league, but he’s not a newborn either. The immaturity excuse isn’t cutting it anymore. And, in reality, that’s because I don’t think Bynum is that immature of an individual. He’s had his moments, of course, but who among us hasn’t? Some of the more scrutinized instances in Bynum’s career, the cross-checking of Dallas’ J.J. Barea being the most apparent, are definite signs of a lack of maturity.
But that’s not what I see this season. That’s not what I take from this new batch of look-at-me moments that Bynum is splashing across the headlines. You see, I think Andrew Bynum is too smart for all that. I think that this isn’t a case of him not knowing what he’s doing, but the exact opposite entirely.
Andrew Bynum knows exactly what he’s doing.
His ejection on Friday night was more telling than any of the previous boneheaded decisions he’s made. Well, besides blowing off a meeting with the team’s general manager, but I don’t have the energy to delve into that bucket of brambles. Regardless, Bynum made a clear, conscious decision to continue acting out in the game against Houston. After picking up his first technical foul in the first half – on a play that wasn’t that flagrant, by the way, but still caused him to lash out like a spoiled child – he knew he had to tone it down a bit for the rest of the game so as to not pick up that second technical that carried an ejection with it.
He simply chose not to.
Bynum should know better than most players in this league exactly how this is done. He has been playing with the master of this technique his entire career. There isn’t a player in the league that knows what he can and cannot get away with after a technical foul better than Kobe Bryant. Every single season Bryant is one of the league leaders in technical fouls. But you know how often he gets ejected? Hardly ever. Now, some of you may say that this is because of Bryant’s status as an established star and that officials are going to be less likely to boot him from the game. That may be partially true, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bryant knows when to tone down the chirping.
This is why Friday night’s ejection doesn’t strike me as Bynum’s lack of maturity as much as it does his commitment to defiance. To me it seems that Bynum believes he knows better than the rest – which is not-so-secret-code for his coaches – and is going to do whatever he wants because he thinks he’s earned this right. And, in a lot of ways, he has. But it’s not just his play on the court that has given him this entitled attitude. It’s the support of his teammates. Particularly Bryant.
We all know Kobe isn’t a sunshine and lollipops type of guy. He’s a cold, calculating competitor that would steal a man’s crutch if it would slow him down long enough to let Bryant slip by and score. And that’s why he’s been able to be one of the most successful players the league has ever seen. But throughout this continued power struggle between Bynum and the front office, Bryant has had Bynum’s back.
Now, Kobe is as untouchable as they come in the NBA. And everybody knows this.
Including Andrew Bynum.
So when Kobe Bryant says that he appreciates the ever-growing chip on Bynum’s shoulder, what is his incentive to curb the attitude? He’s guiltless by association. And he knows this. And that’s the problem. Bynum’s recent revolt has less to do with immaturity and more to do stubborn arrogance than anything else. He knows what most people want him to do. He knows what Mike Brown, Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the team brass want him to do. But he simply refuses to do it.
And why wouldn’t he?
The simple truth is that Andrew Bynum is well on his way to being the face of the biggest franchise in professional basketball. Other than fellow-malcontent center Dwight Howard, Bynum is the most talented center since the soon-to-be Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. And it’s not like this is some big mystery to him. He knows he’s holding the cards, and he knows that the majority of the chips are in his corner.
I’m not sure if this is just a matter of Bynum accepting that he needs to put the team above himself or not, but I do know that until he does this team will suffer. Bryant and the rest of his teammates can support him all they want, and in reality they should to some extent, but they need to pull him aside and let him know that his personal battle with the coaching staff and whatever it is he’s trying to prove is causing a 7-foot fissure in the middle of this franchise, and if they wait too long it’s going to be impossible to fix.