NBA@2: The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum Dilemma
For a brief period of time this season, I found myself thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Los Angeles Lakers really didn’t need Dwight Howard. There was a long stretch of games in March and April where Bynum looked like he might be the Lakers’ next franchise player, where he was the driving force behind the final push for the playoffs that went off without a glitch even as Kobe Bryant was sidelined with an injury.
Bynum had one of the best months of his career in March, when he averaged 22.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and just under two blocks per game. The Lakers weren’t dominant, going 11-6 in April, but Bynum was engaged, determined and an absolute beast.
April wasn’t that much different, as Bynum posted averages of 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and just over a block per game. The Lakers were 9-6 during that stretch despite the fact that Bryant sat out the middle of the month, going 5-1 without him.
It seemed for a while that Bynum had finally turned the corner, found the high level of consistency that the Lakers have been waiting to see. No need to talk about Howard any more, Bynum looked like he might just be the best center in the league.
But then the playoffs came, and with the postseason arrived Bynum’s lapses in judgment, inconsistencies and inattention to detail. When he was engaged, controlling the glass, blocking shots and dominating down low, the Lakers were unbeatable. The Lakers took a 1-0 lead on the Denver Nuggets behind a triple-double from Bynum and took Game 2 as he posted 27 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. He also recorded 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks in Game 7, which the Lakers won to advance to the second round. Of course, they lost the two previous games, in which Bynum averaged 13.5 points and shot 31 percent from the field.
No disrespect to the Nuggets, but playing against the likes of Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee, Bynum should have led the Lakers to a sweep, not played cameo appearances just often enough to get the series.
In the second round, Bynum faced a bigger, tougher low post presence from the Oklahoma City Thunder, whether it was Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, or even Nazr Mohammed guarding him. While he averaged 16.6 points per game in the series, he shot just 43.5 percent from the field as opposed to 51.2 percent against Denver. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds per game against the Thunder as opposed to 12.3 against the Nuggets.
This is the dilemma facing the Lakers. Game in and game out, are they going to get the player who averaged 20 and 10 over the final two months of the season, or are they going to get the player who shows up some nights and disappears others, as he did in the playoffs? There is one faction in the Lakers’ front office that says Bynum is the franchise going forward and everything should run through Drew, while there is another faction that wouldn’t mind finding out what his trade value might be and possibly dealing him.
It’s clear that the Lakers would rather deal Pau Gasol – they actually did trade him before the league nixed the deal – and build around Bynum, and to a lesser extent the aging Bryant. But there is still a nagging little voice coming down from the rafters of Staples Center that says Bynum just isn’t quite as rock solid as he would need to be for the Lakers to stake their future on him.
New York Knicks To Name Head Coach
The New York Knicks are nearing a long-term decision on their head coach situation, and according to the Associated Press, justice is about to be served.
For all of the talk about Phil Jackson, there is no reason to believe that the former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach is even remotely interested (or physically able) to return to the bench. Besides, the Knicks already have a proven coach in their sights who will instantly garner the approval of their players. That coach is none other than current Knicks interim head coach Mike Woodson.
Woodson may have been one of the most under-appreciated head coaches in the NBA during his time in Atlanta, when he took the Hawks from a 13-win lottery team in 2004-05 to a 53-win perennial playoff team in 2009-10. When he took the reins of the Knicks following Mike D’Antoni’s resignation, New York had lost five straight games and seemed to be on the verge of implosion internally. Woodson led the 18-24 Knicks to an 18-6 record the rest of the way, making the playoffs in the process.
The Knicks fell victim to the Miami HEAT buzzsaw, of course, but Woodson had shown the Knicks enough. According to Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press, the Knicks will announce a new, long-term contract for Woodson before the Memorial Day holiday.
In an interesting note, as a player Woodson was originally a first round draft pick of the Knicks in 1980.
Larry Bird Calls Pacers “Soft”
You could almost see it behind his eyes.
Even as NBA Executive of the Year Larry Bird sat patiently watching his Indiana Pacers drop Game Five of their second round series against the Miami HEAT in embarrassing fashion, you could almost see it seething behind his calm demeanor.
Larry Bird wanted to suit up and take the court.
“I can’t believe my team went soft,” Bird said to Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star. “S-O-F-T. I’m disappointed. I never thought it would happen.”
Soft is certainly one way to describe what we saw from the Pacers on Tuesday night. We didn’t see any of the low post dominance that characterized their first two wins in the series, nor did we see any of the first-rate defense and smart decision-making with the ball. Instead, we saw lazy cross-court passes that were easily picked off and converted into uncontested HEAT dunks; we saw possessions in which perimeter players ignored All-Stars David West and Roy Hibbert, preferring to dribble out the shot clock and launch contested threes instead; and we saw a largely disinterested defensive effort despite the fact that the HEAT delivered a number of cheap shot fouls that should have fired up the Pacers.
“That’s all I have to say,” Bird concluded, having been asked to expand on his “soft” comment.
And really, what else needed to be said?
The HEAT are a very good defensive team, and good defensive teams work to take away the biggest strength of their opponents. For the Pacers, the inside game was one of the primary reasons they won the two games they have won in this series to date. Over the last two games the HEAT have done their best to take away that inside game, and despite lacking the personnel to do it, they’ve managed to discourage the Pacers from even thinking about using their advantage.
“They knew we were going to pound the ball inside,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. “That was been a challenge for us all series. They stepped up their defense and put more focus on our inside game. We certainly didn’t play well in the second half.”
That may be the understatement of the postseason.
It didn’t help that Danny Granger missed most of the second half after he aggravated an ankle injury suffered in the first half, but the Pacers had given up long before Granger went down for the second time. The HEAT were heavily favored to win this series, even without Chris Bosh, but the Pacers seemed to take that as a challenge coming out of the gate. They approached this series with a surprising amount of attitude and purpose. It’s now time for them the regain that attitude and purpose. Without it they might as well just send up the white flag and wish the HEAT luck in round three.
Besides, we really don’t want to see Larry Bird out there in his 80′s short shorts . . .and I’m not sure he can stand to sit by and watch his team quit.
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