Ten games into the regular season, I appeared as a guest on Colin Cowherd's radio show. At the time, Andrew Bynum was averaging just over 20 points per game, along with 11 rebounds. Colin asked me, what, if anything, could slow him down.
"Pau Gasol," I joked, "when he comes back, Andrew might have to share."
I was kidding, but it's not a joke any more. When Gasol returned, Bynum went backwards. After picking up eight double-doubles in the first 11 games, Bynum has none since. It's almost as if Bynum has been deferring to Gasol, and is willing to take a back seat. Kobe Bryant explains it another way.
"There's a pecking order," Kobe says. "I eat first, and Pau eats second. Everybody else can eat what's left."
But on Sunday, Gasol strained his left hamstring, and will be out indefinitely. That opens the door for Bynum to move up in that pecking order.
Bynum is fully aware of all of this. When he was asked how his role changes when Gasol is out, he didn't hesitate.
"I'm going to be more featured on the block cause we're going to need good post up that provides penetration, for the offense," Bynum said. "On defense, I'm going to have to get my boards and really, really, work on loading, because with two 7-footers in there it's a little bit better than one."
But when the Lakers took on the Rockets on Tuesday night, it was Lamar Odom who first seemed to step into the void -- not Bynum. In the first half, both players took six shots, and each made three. But Bynum grabbed only two rebounds, while Odom pulled down a staggering 13 first-half boards. This despite the fact that the 7-foot Bynum was matched up against 6-6 Chuck Hayes, or 6-8 Carl Landry.
In the second half, Bynum woke up. He took advantage of his size and finished the game as the Lakers leading scorer with 24 points, and a respectable eight rebounds. But Odom finished with a spectacular game: 17 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists -- a near triple-double.
I know I'm being overly critical of Bynum, but keep in mind that the Lakers' coaches have all told him that his emphasis has to be on defense and rebounding. The coaches don't care if he scores. Bynum cares, but now that he has a guaranteed $48 million dollar contract, the question of how much he cares comes up a lot.
I know this will sound strange, but I've felt for a while that this is a speed issue. What I mean is that if a Lakers game was a race, Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest are running at one speed -- while Bynum is running at a slower pace. I think that's why he often gets into foul trouble, because he's a step slower. I also think that contributes to his lack of rebounding.
I asked Mychal Thompson, my 710 ESPN Radio colleague, about my theory. Thompson works as the color analyst on Lakers' radio broadcasts and won two rings with the Lakers in the 80's.
"You're right," Thompson said. "The other guys, like Odom, are much more active and go after the ball. Andrew waits for the ball to come to him."
The good news is that this is a very easy thing to fix. You can't teach height, and you can't teach reach -- and Bynum has an abundance of both. Once he gets up to speed, the sky is the limit. A year ago, in January of '09, Bynum gave everyone a glimpse of what he can be when he torched the Clippers for a career-high 42 points, with 15 rebounds.
Wednesday night, Bynum and the Lakers play the Clippers again. Somebody should show him last year's game tape.
John Ireland hosts the "Mason & Ireland" show on ESPN Radio 710 in Los Angeles.