BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Andrew Bynum will enter the 2011-2012 postseason as the unquestioned leader for the Lakers for the first time in his enigmatic career. God help us all.
The quest for athletic supremacy has long been a battle where only the strongest of gladiator survives. That is the test standing before Bynum, can he or better yet will he provide a championship level of play for the Lakers. The championship arena is where Gasol learned he needed to come harder, it is where LeBron learned how heavy the crown truly is, and it is where Magic, Michael, and Russell became legendary.
The playoffs are simply where truth overtakes hope.
Yes, the center has played in two NBA Finals previously, but this will be the first time he enters with the bullseye on his back and expectations upon his shoulders.
In the 2009-2010 postseason the seven-footer’s playoff minutes and scoring rose from the previous year and Bynum played well in spurts. However, he finished with only two double figure scoring games in the NBA Finals and one double figure rebound game. While anticipation was building it was abruptly clear it was not the young center’s turn.
The 2010-2011 postseason was swift and filled with controversy. Despite the strife before him the Jersey native showed he possessed the heart of fighter. In just one season Bynum went from a paltry 8.6 points per to strong 14.4 points per. It was this postseason that the boyish grin Bynum displayed so often in his career was replaced be a grown man scowl. It was in this postseason he displayed a true grit that up to that point had yet to be seen.
Just as it appeared the Lakers’ center was set to take the next step a lockout occurred. Yet, this did not stifle the young center. The coaching change and suspension seemed to energize the Laker big man. Bynum’s call to arms was expected this season but the question was could he deliver consistently. Would the team respect his demands for the ball or bypass him for proven deliverance?
His emergence began with the belief and constant reinforcement to be aggressive from Head Coach Mike Brown. Coach Brown has a history of working well with big man going back to his San Antonio days and working with Malik Rose, who would played a vital role in the Spurs championship season.
By far Bynum is Brown’s biggest achievement and remains his biggest question mark. The player who begged for the table scraps from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol is now the sitting at the head of the table. To date the center should be the hands down winner of the Most Improved Player of the Year award and some could argue he should be First Team All-NBA and Brown deserves a gargantuan amount of the credit.
The LA big has earned the respect of his teammates who have deferred to Bynum and have grown to trust him late in games. Now it is time for the center to take the big stage. The same tenacity that has gotten the big fella 33 double-doubles in 50 starts and 47 games of 10 or more points now must be displayed where legends are formed.
If healthy there is no center in the western conference that can stop or even deter “the Grown Man”. If focused Bynum can lead this team to the Finals regardless of who is at point guard or small forward, but ifs don’t win titles certainty does.
Many of players have wilted under dimmer lights and less spectators, the question remains where will Bynum fall. The talent is there and slowly the achievement is meeting the acclaim, but all will be for not if he stumbles early.
Any success the Lakers are to have this postseason rest squarely on the shoulders of the Jersey native. If they playoffs were to start today LA would face a familiar foe in the Dallas Mavericks and so far this season the Lakers are 3-0 against the Mavericks. In those three contests Bynum has averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds, one block and that is not good enough. Those numbers are not indicative of Bynum’s skill set and could lead L.A. back to an early offseason.
The center has to be dominant from the outset. The young gun has to announce his playoff presence with the same authority used when he opened the 2011-2012 season. The Mavericks, Spurs, and Thunder do not have a player capable of slowing Bynum down on the road to the NBA Finals.
The center just has to walk that path.
Gone are the excuses and tempered enthusiasm. Here are the expectations of dominance from a dominant force.
Bynum can no longer enter the arena and return blows he must initiate them. No other player on this roster will be counted on as this young man this post season.
The Lakers have groomed their gladiator for battle, and although he has never stood on the frontlines the center bears the scars of strife and war. Now he must lead his group into the arena as first in command. What is expected has been documented, however what will occur is uncertain.