Big man guru Newell gives Bynum support

Times Staff Writer

HONOLULU -- Andrew Bynum will turn 20 in three weeks, a young 7-footer asked to grow up quickly . . . again.

Last season could be described only as an experience, a torrid start dissolving into a frigid ending, complete with a total of two points in the Lakers’ last two playoff games.

In case things couldn’t get worse, the infamous amateur video with Kobe Bryant surfaced midsummer, a reminder that at least one player didn’t think much of the team’s 10th pick in the 2005 draft.

In Bynum’s corner, however, is one of the original big men, proprietor of the internationally known Big Man Camp.


If they’re 7 feet tall and claim to have even a dollop of basketball ability, Pete Newell has seen them over the last 30 years -- from Bill Walton to Hakeem Olajuwon to Shaquille O’Neal. Now 92, Newell has taken a keen interest in Bynum, who has attended two of his camps.

Newell saw what any Lakers fan saw of Bynum last season -- strong beginning, horrific finale -- with further detailed observations from his trained eye.

“I was surprised that he played as well as he did at the start of the year,” Newell said. “I think that he was a little confused at the end because he was catching a little hell from Kobe. He was grabbing him by the shirt and telling him what he should and shouldn’t have done. That wouldn’t help anybody, let alone a young player.

“If [Bynum] does stay with the Lakers, and they don’t trade him, they’ve got to make it clear to Kobe that he’s not the coach and he should be positive, not negative, when he makes the mistakes that he made. I don’t think he’s going to prosper if the older players start to get on him in the court in front of all the people, and that is what happened.”

Newell keeps replaying the first three months of the season in his mind, including Bynum’s 10.7-point, nine-rebound average in January.

“From the first year to the second year was amazingly different in terms of the steps he made and how much he improved in some areas,” Newell said. “The first year he had no idea what he was into. He showed [last season] that the potential is there.”

Bynum hit the wall physically once February rolled around, a sudden lack of confidence joining overall lack of conditioning. He ended up averaging 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds.

“Big kids in high school don’t seem to need to exert themselves -- getting back on defense, getting up the court on offense,” Newell said. “It’s something, especially the big player, it takes time for them to recognize they should get down that court. It just is the habit of not having had to do it. He will learn that. He’s willing to learn. It’s just habits that have to be broken.”

Bynum has tried to break some of them on his own.

Chastised by Coach Phil Jackson for apparent lack of work ethic at various points last season, Bynum became more serious in his conditioning.

“I’ve been hitting the weights, been out there on the track,” he said. “My wind is a lot better. I’m a lot stronger. I have a bigger base, so I’ll be able to hold my ground in the post.”

Still, he is among three centers vying for starter’s minutes, trying to beat out veterans Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm to reclaim the starting spot he held for 53 games last season.

“He’s definitely looking for his offense. He’s an offensive-minded kid,” Jackson said. “He makes some big blocks in practice and that’s what we want to see -- rebounding and defense is what’s going to win it for us in the middle.”

Six players sat out the Saturday morning practice session, including Bryant, who rested a mildly sore knee.