Western Conference coaches were able to overlook the 17 games Pau Gasol has missed this season. But they weren’t able to ignore Andrew Bynum’s up-and-down season with the Lakers.
Gasol will join Kobe Bryant at the All-Star game on Feb. 14, the second time in as many seasons the Lakers forward was selected to play as a reserve for the West team.
Bynum, however, did not make the All-Star team after averaging 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. He started off strong, collecting double figures in points and rebounds in eight of his first nine games -- while Gasol was sidelined -- but endured a stretch of 23 consecutive games without a double-double.
Had Bynum been selected, the Lakers would have had more than two All-Stars for the first time since Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel made the teamin 1998.
By all accounts, Bynum was unhappy about not making the team. The Lakers did not practice Thursday and he was not available for comment.
Gasol said he could understand Bynum’s feelings.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t make it,” Gasol said. “I’ve been through that before -- some guys got picked ahead of me -- but that’s up to the coaches. You can’t do anything about it but continue to improve, continue to play and show you belong there. In the end, it’s going to pay off. ‘Drew is a player with tremendous potential, he plays at a very high level and I think he’ll be an All-Star very, very soon.”
Gasol, 29, was chosen despite missing the season’s first 11 games because of a strained right hamstring and then six more games because of a strained left hamstring. Gasol has played in 29 games, averaging 17.6 points and 11 rebounds. He averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds last season.
“I’m healthy now and playing now,” Gasol said. “I played most of the games and I produced pretty well. Knowing the fact that I had to come back from the injuries and play a few games to get back into the flow of things, that I was able to do that effectively right away, I’m proud of that.”
Bynum, 22, had been playing better lately, including a 27-point, 12-rebound effort Wednesday against Indiana, but the coaches’ ballots had already been submitted.
The coaches did not select a true center for reserve status, leaving off Denver’s Nene and the Clippers’ Chris Kaman. The team will be somewhat undersized, seeing how 6-foot-10 Amare Stoudemire was voted in by fans to start at center, and Gasol (7-0) probably will be the backup.
Last week, the league announced that Bryant was voted by fans to start his 12th All-Star game.
The 30 head coaches chose All-Star reserves by voting for seven players in their conference, including two guards, two forwards, a center and two other players regardless of position. Coaches were not allowed to vote for players on their team.
The thrill remains, even if Bryant has been in Los Angeles for 14 years.
He grew up in the Philadelphia area, attending Lower Merion High, a suburban school about half an hour away.
So when the Lakers play the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at the Wachovia Center, it’ll give Bryant a chance to play in front of family and friends and well-wishers from his childhood.
“Every time it’s exciting, even though we only go back once a year,” Bryant said. “It’s good to get back and be around my family and be around my friends and have them come down to the arena and watch me play.”
Early in his career with the Lakers, Bryant was booed by the 76ers fans.
That has changed in recent years, and he has heard chants of “M-V-P” in Philadelphia during games.
“I’ve been in L.A. 14 years now, so technically the longest place I’ve lived in in my entire life is Los Angeles,” Bryant said. “Growing up [in Philadelphia], in terms of spending from the age of 13 on to 17, those are critical years. So I still have a great deal of attachment there.”
Iverson still a threat?
Since Allen Iverson rejoined the 76ers in December, he has been forced to change his style of play.
The 76ers run the Princeton offense, which is more about cutting, passing and moving the basketball.
Iverson, who signed with the 76ers after briefly retiring from the Memphis Grizzlies this season, has been a one-on-one player his entire career.
But Iverson is averaging 14.5 points on 43% shooting in 20 games with the 76ers.
“It’s not as much isolation for him as there has been in the past,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “But he seems to be trying to run the offense.”