Perhaps no player symbolizes the Lakers’ regular-season rise and decline more than Andrew Bynum.
Time is firmly on his side -- he’s still six months from his 20th birthday -- but the 7-foot center saw better days back in November and December, much like the team.
Team officials still believe in him, saying he was thrust into many more minutes than expected because of injuries to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, but there’s no denying his steady decrease in production.
Special assistant coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, hired specifically to work with Bynum, offers a subtle shrug when asked how to end the months-long slide.
“I don’t know. I didn’t have that problem,” said Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. “This is probably his fourth or fifth year in competitive basketball. My fifth year of competitive basketball was the eighth grade. He’s got to learn a lot on the fly and that’s tough. I don’t envy him. I think Andrew wants everything to work and unless it works, he’s not going to try, so he’s become very tentative.”
Bynum, the 10th pick in the 2005 draft, had scored more than nine points only once in the last 16 games before scoring 16 points Monday against Denver.
He is averaging 7.8 points and 6.1 rebounds, lower numbers than expected after he’d provided memorable moments earlier in the season.
He had 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the season opener against Phoenix, and had 20 points and 14 rebounds a week later against Minnesota. But he hasn’t done much since collecting 19 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots against Denver in early January.
“I don’t sense frustration, but Andrew’s pretty stoic,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He’s not giving me all of it. He wants people to see him as a man and he wants to go out there and do a good job.
“He has the physical ability to do it. Learning how to apply those gifts in a competitive environment is a very difficult thing. It just doesn’t happen. I was glad this year that he got a chance to play a lot. That’s really served him well. I guess that’s part of the problem [too]. It’s made him maybe more reticent. It can’t always work out the way you want it. He’s seeing the other side of that now.”
Of the three teams (Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio) the Lakers might face in the playoffs, they probably match up best against Phoenix, but Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he did not believe in trying to “orchestrate” playoff matchups, as a reporter put it before Monday’s game.
“No. Never done it before,” Jackson said. “This is a game fans pay money to see players play, and you do the right thing.”
If the current standings hold up, the Lakers would play Phoenix in the first round.
“Right now, we have fourth-quarter enigmas in which all of a sudden fatigue or something happens and we’re making mistakes,” Jackson said. “We had teams in the past where everything went right for them in the fourth quarter. That’s the magic that you try to bottle and bring into the playoffs. If you mess that up, and you play around with that, you’re playing with danger.”