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Thursday, December 1, 2011
Lakers' Andrew Bynum needs to grow

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- He has changed in the time that we've known him. Slowly for the first few years, then quickly into one of the best centers in the NBA.

Andrew Bynum didn't just have a growth spurt in his development as a basketball player in 2008, he pushed the fast-forward button.

The problem is what has happened since.

He's still a great young center, but he's just as great as he was back in 2008. In other words, he has stalled a bit. There are various reasons for this. Injuries and extended rehabilitation stints being the most obvious.

But mostly it's because he's only been able to go as far as the Los Angeles Lakers have room for him to grow on a team in which Kobe Bryant needs between 15 and 25 shots a night, Pau Gasol needs 12-15 more and a guy like Lamar Odom is already hanging around the rim trying to pick up the scraps.

And forget trying to be a leader. The Lakers already have three of those in Bryant, Odom and Derek Fisher.

It has been frustrating to no end. But what could Bynum say or do about it when the Lakers were winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 and chasing a third in 2011?

Juan Barea
This, unfortunately, is one the lasting images of Andrew Bynum.
No, his role was to stay in his role. To be only what the Lakers needed him to be in the moment, and not the best player he can become.

It was for the good of the team and completely the opposite of the way the Lakers had reared him as a basketball player.

Keep those wings at your sides, young man; it's not your time to fly just yet.

None of this is to excuse what happened next.

There is nothing he can say that will make those photos of him parking his car across two handicapped parking spaces look any less insensitive and immature.

There is no apology he can give that will make the tape of him clotheslining Dallas Mavericks ' guard J.J. Barea in Game 4 of last spring's playoffs seem less vile.

But after taking a few months to digest two incidents that looked and felt nothing like the kid we've all come to know over the past six years, it's the only explanation I can find.

Andrew Bynum is rebelling.

Against everything. Against being told to wait. Against being told to just do his job. Against being criticized for what, in his mind, is simply wanting to take the next step as a basketball player.

He's probably even mad for getting hurt so many times, though it's just fate and bad luck on the hook for that.

The thing is Andrew Bynum is not a rebel. He's a kid from New Jersey who likes fast cars, reads books without having to wait for the one Phil Jackson selected every year and might have been an electrical engineer if he weren't a basketball player.

He has never fought authority. If anything, he's embraced it. In his six years with the Lakers, Bynum has probably had more mentors and accepted more coaching than anyone on the team.

So this is solvable. Bynum is just in a bad stage, not a bad way.

The question is how long the Lakers can wait for Bynum to grow out of it. He's under contract for the next two seasons, the second being the team's option at $16.4 million.

There isn't an agent alive who would want his star player to head into the final year of a contract like that without some security. In other words, don't expect Bynum's camp to let him play out this season and simply let the Lakers decide whether to exercise their option on him next year.

The issue is going to come up: The Lakers will need to commit one way or another at the end of this year. That means Bynum will need to show them, sooner rather than later, whether he is truly the guy they want to lead this franchise for the next five to 10 years.

He has shown enough on the court to give them hope that he is. You wonder, though, whether he'll have the opportunity to show more of himself while Bryant, Gasol and Odom are still eating ahead of him. I'm sure Bynum wonders that, too.

The real question is whether he can show them enough off the court to believe in him again. There was a time not so long ago that this was the last thing anyone worried about.

Bynum's character was never in doubt. But he has acted badly recently. Enough times, in enough ways that he needs to undo it and make amends.

An apology to Barea was the least he could do.

He has yet to comment on the handicapped parking scandal, which is almost as inexcusable as the act itself.

Deep down, I'm sure he wants to. He's too smart not to realize that he needs to.

We all get why he's rebelling. We all understand to some level, too.

But it's time to grow up and be the bigger man.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLA.com.