So… are we having fun yet?
In the wake of a lackluster 104-101 victory in Oakland over the fast-fading Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in familiar haunts. Against a backdrop that featured some vintage late-game heroics from Kobe Bryant (admittedly, said heroics would likely not have been necessary if he’d made more than a third of his shots before that point), an outstanding performance off of the bench by Matt Barnes (18 points, on 7-10FG and 3-5 3-pt, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 30 minutes) and a showdown with the class of the conference looming in less than 48 hours, for the second game on the trot, the post-game chatter centered around a Laker star’s involuntary relegation to the bench.
On Sunday night it was Kobe on the pine during the stretch run. This time Andrew Bynum was the target of Mike Brown’s hook. Two minutes into the second half, having connected on just four of 10 field goal attempts and made minimal impact on the boards, and appearing generally disinterested at the defensive end, Bynum, trailing the play as the Lakers were setting up in the half court, received the ball at the top of the arc, about 25 feet from the cup. With 16 seconds remaining on the shot clock and the Lakers holding a slender 56-50 advantage, Bynum, whose 6+-year resume had on it a grand total of seven 3-point attempts (and prior to Sunday night, no makes), assessed the situation and concluded that letting fly from distance was the option best aligned with the team’s interests.
31 seconds after the ill-conceived heave, ‘Drew found himself with a courtside seat for the remainder of the third quarter and all but the first 170 seconds of the final stanza. The game played out, the shot, the hook and Bynum’s subsequent refusal to join the team huddle during timeouts ("I just sat where he (Brown) put me."), sending Twitter aflutter with reaction running the gamut, from “Did Bynum really get benched just for taking a 3? What’s the big deal?” to “Andrew Bynum is a disgrace to the organization.” The truth, as it annoyingly tends to do, resides somewhere in the middle.
Andrew Bynum is NOT a disgrace to the Purple and Gold. He is, by all accounts, an intelligent, charming and well mannered young guy. Despite having the trappings of wealth, celebrity in the city of Los Angeles at his feet since graduating high school, he’s not run afoul of the law (poor choice in parking spaces notwithstanding) and has honed his craft to the point where there are not five people walking the planet better equipped to do his job.
Andrew Bynum is, however, a petulant child. This was a tantrum. You could see the clouds gathering. From his untimely ejection in last week’s loss in Houston, to his lackadaisical effort the following night in Dallas, to his “I gotta get my numbers” proclamation immediately after, Bynum is acting out. Perhaps feeling (justifiably or not) about an aging Kobe the way that Kobe felt about Shaq a decade ago, or maybe jealous of the outpouring of love from Laker Nation toward backcourt savior Ramon Sessions, Bynum is not receiving the attention he clearly feels he is owed.
With that said, it’s important that we take a step back and not make too much of the events of Tuesday night. This is not some apocalyptic breaking point, but a manifestation of an unseemly aspect of Bynum’s personality. He is not a locker room cancer on a mission to tear this team apart at its seams, but an entitled adolescent in need of affirmation that he’s not forgotten and still loved. This is not a straw that’s broken a camel’s back. Our camel is just a bit of a brat.
Cue the ukulele.
Allow me to wander off on a tangent for a moment. On more than one occasion, I have likened new Lakers President Jim Buss to fellow (albeit fictional) genetic lottery winner, Gob Bluth, While casting ‘Drew Bynum here as pampered man-boy Buster, striking similarities between the current crew in Lakerland and the Bluth clan began to emerge. For instance, Jerry Buss is a perfect out-of-the-picture patriarch (George Sr.), with Jeannie – the daughter that is loved, but overlooked in matters of great significance –as Lindsay. Kobe is clearly Lucille Bluth, the under-the-radar (less in Kobe’s case) puppetmaster, while Pau Gasol – talented hard-working, always willing to sacrifice, but flawed in his own right and frequently disregarded – makes for quite the Michael. We can round out the gang with Mike Tobias Brown Fünke – the less-than-alpha outsider that probably regrets signing up for this shitshow, but with nowhere else to go – and Ramon Sessions – still innocent and somewhat above the fray – as the teenage George Michael.
Am I crazy, or does that kinda work?
Now if Ron Howard would just agree to do play-by-play….Yo quiero leche! Whuh?? Where are we?
Last summer I wrote about the “new Laker fandom.” It is now upon us, and it is not well-versed in the art of subtlety.
Neither the behavior exhibited by Andrew Bynum nor the turmoil that persistently surrounds this team is unprecedented in the history of sport. This is just a pain-in-the-ass idiosyncrasy in Bynum’s personality, not unlike the ones Shaq possessed, or those regularly paraded about by Kobe Bean. However, conspicuously missing (thus far) from this new chapter in Laker history is the organizational stalwart – the Chick Hearn, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson or Jerry Buss – with both the credibility and the gravitas to remind young ‘Drew that this act only flies in Lakerland when you’re stackin’ ‘chips, and even then, look at banner, buddy – no man is bigger than the franchise.
This is oddly sorta fun though, right? This is what this team is now. They fuck up until they have to get it together, and we have no idea where it's going.