The last few weeks have been dominated by questions about Andrew Bynum. Petulant behavior punctuated by a pair of needless ejections will certainly get folks talking, after all. Certainly we'll all be talking about him today following his incredible 30-rebound game Wednesday in San Antonio.
But or all the controversy surrounding technical fouls or questionable postgame commentary or "Club 17" or his respect for Mike Brown or anything else, the most unnerving element has been what appears to be a willingness to compromise his own effort. Too many moments where he simply wasn't playing hard.
Wednesday, Bynum reminded everyone what it looks like when he's fully invested defensively. It wasn't simply the 30 boards but the way in which he protected the paint and changed what the Spurs could accomplish near the basket. Bynum rotated with aggression, challenging every shot his go-go-Gadget arms could reach, all on a night where he struggled with his shot. Not surprisingly, results showed on the scoreboard, as the Lakers put together their most complete performance in weeks at their own end.
It was a throwback to the early weeks of the season, when Bynum anchored a D putting up elite numbers in the half court, embracing a role built on rebounding and paint protection before points. Yes, he scored too, but on nights when he didn't or was inefficient in the process, Bynum still showed up to play at the other end.
Lakers fans -- along with Lakers coaches and players, I can only assume -- welcomed the return of that guy. That guy allows them to conjure playoff daydreams with far happier endings.
Unfortunately, Wednesday's domination wasn't without a few moments reminding how he's not exactly a monument to predictability. There was the postgame interview, in which he responded to a question about joining Kareem, Mikan, Chamberlain and Baylor as the only Lakers in franchise history to grab 30 boards in a game by noting on live TV he "shot like s***, man" and will remember that before his other contributions.
This was after one of the strangest plays I've ever seen. Up 14 on L.A.'s last possession, Bynum stood at the 3-point line asking Steve Blake for the ball, ostensibly so he could launch his pet shot before the buzzer. Blake, recognizing time, space, and all accepted rules of sportsmanship, ignored him and dribbled out the clock. Undeterred, Bynum added one more example of aggressive defense to his night, attempting to steal the ball from his own point guard.
Here's the deal: If Bynum plays with the priorities, effort, and focus he showed in San Antonio, I don't really care if he turns every postgame interview into an impromptu poetry slam featuring the rhymes of 2 Live Crew or launches a hook shot from under his own basket at the final buzzer. Neither is ideal, but amounts to an acceptable trade off.
To be fair, Bynum also had a moment of humility, downplaying his glasswork with some right-place-right-time-I-got-lucky language, talked about needing to do it again, and maybe he was just goofing around with the Blake thing (though I doubt it). But the whole package makes you wonder if he'll draw the right lessons from Wednesday's game, which proved how player or coach, not Brown, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or anyone else, has the same sort of leverage over this team's success than Bynum. It's may not be his team as traditionally defined -- that title obviously belongs to 24 -- but it's his season to save or scuttle. What does he do with that knowledge?
Like most people, I'd like to believe he'll use his power wisely, that when push comes to shove we'll see the invested version of Bynum capable elevating the Lakers.
But like most people, you can't blame me for being unsure.