Commentary

Bynum no longer a luxury for the Lakers

Once considered a bonus, production from seventh-year center now clearly a necessity

Updated: February 11, 2012, 5:29 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

NEW YORK -- Jeremy Lin lit up the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday much the same way he's lit up the league in the past week, scoring a career-high 38 points in the New York Knicks' 92-85 victory.

The dynamic 23-year-old guard has given the Knicks a lift when they needed it most -- guiding New York to four straight wins while stars Carmelo Anthony (groin) and Amare Stoudemire (death of his brother) have been unavailable for part of that time.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Bynum
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIAll-Star center Andrew Bynum is enjoying career highs in points, rebounds and playing time for the Lakers this season.
The Lakers have their own 24-year-old rising star. Andrew Bynum stands 7 feet tall and weighs 285 pounds, yet he was nowhere to be found when the Lakers came into Madison Square Garden hoping to finally, mercifully build some momentum on the road after dispatching the Boston Celtics in overtime Thursday.

Bynum scored only three points Friday, finishing 1-for-8 from the field and 1-for-2 from the line. Just more than a week before his starting role for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game, Bynum laced 'em up at the world's most famous arena ... and had his point total tripled by New York's Steve Novak.

The post-Phil Jackson Lakers are still in "search mode," as coach Mike Brown likes to say, but one thing they certainly have found is that they need production from Bynum.

"I got to score the ball in order for us to win," Bynum said after the loss, which dropped the Lakers to 2-3 so far on their six-game road trip and 4-10 away from Staples Center overall this season. "I definitely got to take a major part in contributing to this loss."

Bynum should be given credit for taking the blame after the loss as much as he should be scrutinized for coming up so small against a Knicks front line that was missing Stoudemire. At the very least, he gets his importance to the team and knows there's no Lamar Odom walking through that door to give the offense a boost on nights when he doesn't bring it.

There are few guarantees on offense in the Lakers' lineup:

• They already are pretty much playing three-on-five when it comes to scoring with their starting five, when you consider the meager outputs from Metta World Peace and Derek Fisher. (The pair combined for just six points on 2-for-9 shooting against New York.)

• The Lakers' 3-point shooting ranked 29th in the league going into the game. They lived up to their bad reputation by going 6-for-24 (25 percent) from the outside against the Knicks.

• And the bench hasn't exactly been reliable for points, either.

But there are some bright consistencies:

Kobe Bryant is going to gun for 30 points every night; he had 34 on 11-for-29 shooting against New York. Pau Gasol will end up posting 14 to 24 points, depending on his aggression level; he had 16 on 6-for-10 shooting Friday. And then there's Bynum.

The seven-year veteran with a career 10.9-points-per-game average is putting up a career-best 16.5 points per game this season. He's the only player out of the three who is supposed to be ascending to his prime rather than descending from it.

There was a time last season when the Lakers went 17-1 after the All-Star break, and Bynum did his job with five points on three shots in a win against Atlanta and four points on two shots in a win against San Antonio. But those days are over.

This team has changed. Bynum's role has increased.

The kid gloves the Lakers' organization used with Bynum in the first six seasons after he was drafted out of high school as a 17-year-old have long since been taken off. The waiting is over. Either Bynum proves he can do it or he's trade bait.

Bynum is the 21st-highest paid player in the league at $15.2 million for this season. (His take-home pay is about 20 percent of that, a prorated amount because of the lockout, but you get the point). His contract is up at the end of next season. If the Lakers are going to commit to an extension worth even more money, they have to be sure they can center the franchise around their young center.

While no one has come right out and said it, the fact that Bynum is playing a career high of nearly 35 minutes per game this season also happens to be a pretty good measure to see whether his problematic body will be able to endure the wear and tear that would come down the road if the Lakers made a long-term commitment to him.

World Peace tried to take the pressure off Bynum against the Knicks, claiming that Tyson Chandler was playing illegal defense against him by placing both hands on his back in the post. ("That's an immediate foul," World Peace said.) But Bynum didn't want to be let off the hook.

"I got to be able to stay low and go through that," Bynum said. "I missed tip-ins, too, today. I had like two or three of those that I made last night [in Boston] that just didn't fall for me."

Bynum couldn't get over the fact that a day after he had two signature and-1-type layups down the stretch of the first half and the end of the game against the Celtics, his point total for the entire night in New York was just three.

"I'm missing 14 [from my average]," Bynum said.

Bryant was satisfied with Bynum's reaction.

"It's good because it comes with the responsibility of being an All-Star," Bryant said. "You got to produce."

His opportunity is now. The void needs to be filled. The Lakers could use Bynum to be like Lin.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE NBA HEADLINES