Jim Souhan: Bynum's the piece that makes this Lakers team exceptional
By JIM SOUHAN, Star Tribune
January 31, 2009
The Twin Cities' dormant NBA fans returned en masse to Target Center on Friday night to see the player who will win a championship for the Lakers this summer. They got to see Kobe Bryant, too.
While Bryant was easing his way to 30 points -- if his intensity level could be measured on a blender, he was more purée than liquefy -- the guy who will make all the difference in this year's NBA Finals was making the Wolves look like Lilliputians of the lane during the Lakers' 132-119 victory.
Andrew Bynum, the Lakers' young center, dominated from the start, scoring at will over Wolves center-by-necessity Al Jefferson. Bynum had 23 points and 13 rebounds by midway through the third quarter, as the Lakers built an 18-point lead.
That prompted Wolves coach Kevin McHale to insert Mark Madsen, his way of saying, "See, kids, any of you could grow up to play in the NBA."
Bynum's knee injury didn't keep the Lakers from the Finals last year, but it kept them from winning. This year, with the Western Conference just as deep but hardly as top-heavy, the Lakers have already taken on the sheen of a champion.
They've still got Kobe Bryant, the best player in the game until LeBron James proves he can hit big shots in the fourth quarter of big games. Bryant did nothing spectacular Friday night and still went for 30 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Lakers still have Pau Gasol, a wonderful complementary player who can be just that with Bryant and Bynum anchoring the perimeter and the paint.
But it's Bynum's ability to dominate inside that makes this team look that much better than last year's finalists. Bynum had 17 points and nine rebounds in the first half, and quickly earned a double-double for the fifth consecutive game, a career best. He finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes.
Roughly a year after suffering a season-ending knee injury, Bynum last week earned Western Conference player of the week honors. "He looks very confident in there right now," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He's playing above the crowd, so to speak, in many ways. I think this is a stepping-out point for him, especially having an honor last week, that gave him some credibility, and he feels good about it.
"He's a better player now than he was when he got hurt last year, but it's taken him this month, January, to get back and feel like, 'OK, I'm over my injury ...'"
The Lakers look good in so many ways -- they're deep with shooters and role players, they no longer need to lean heavily on the mysteriously passive Lamar Odom, and Jackson has finally gotten rid of that ridiculous soul patch.
Friday, Jackson looked more like a banker than an aging hipster, and his team, fresh off an overtime loss to Charlotte, looked similarly cool and professional all night.
The Wolves have no centers who can match up with Bynum, one reason the Lakers scored 64 first-half points, the most the Wolves have allowed in a first half all season.
"With the three of us playing at the level we're playing at now, it makes it impossible to double-team us, because you know you're going to have to leave somebody who can definitely put the ball in the basket," Bynum said, referring to himself, Bryant and Gasol. "Some teams don't have one guy who can post up and play the center position. We actually have two who can do it pretty well."
Asked whether he had improved dramatically from a year ago, Bynum said, "I'm just able to control the game for a longer period of time."
Bynum might put the Lakers in control of this league for quite some time.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's what one of their fans wrote in response to this article, which I believe to be true:
McHale is a Celtic FIRST & thats why Bynum not a T'Wolf!
McHale sold out the T'Wolves because he had a weak owner whom he could convince that the Al Jefferson from Boston was a better deal than Andrew Bynum + Lamar Odom deal was from the Lakers. McHale REALLY knew that trading Garnett to old buddy Ainge and the Celtics was going to make them better, and there was NO WAY he could live with himself and get together with all those old Celtics at reunions if he had turned down the worse offer from the C's to trade KG to L.A. So McHale sold out the T'Wolves. There is NO QUESTION Bynum + Lamar + draft choices is a far, far better deal than the Al Jefferson + a role players (Gomes, Telfair & Green). The Lakers could have included Kwame's expiring contract in the deal which was a larger one than Ratliffe's expiring one (I think it was Theo). Look, Al Jefferson is going to be a decent player, and probably an all-star in years to come. BUT he is NOT 7-foot and he will probably be backing up Bynum who is the better player than the two. Lamar is like KG-lite, and has been called the most variable big-man in the league, able to run every position. What I'm saying, the T'Wolves have a traitor in their midst - and it happens to be the person running your team. I hope everyone saw the play of Bynum vs Jefferson, and understood the REAL reason Bynum and Lamar wasn't a T'Wolf today. With those two the wolves would be pretty good and a shoe-in for the playoffs for years to come. I can't understand why T'Wolf fans aren't calling for his (McHale's) resignation. As the cherry on top of the bad-trade? McHale didn't even get Rajon Rondo in the trade, instead settling for the lousy, overrated Gerald Green. THAT"S CUZ HE BLEEDS CELTIC GREEN!!!