HANG TIME HQ, TEXAS – News flash for Andrew Bynum: four and a half years after the infamous video taken at a Newport Beach mall, Kobe Bryant believes you’ve got the right stuff to help him run down that sixth NBA championship that would pull him even with Michael Jordan.
After falling out of the starting gate with back-to-back losses, the Lakers have won six out of their last eight going into tonight’s game against the Suns. Bryant told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports! that he’s feeling good about many things: The right wrist that is holding up despite torn ligaments, the attitude and philosophy of new coach Mike Brown and especially the play of his front court teammates Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Bryant loves that Brown’s pushing people within the organization, that he’s pushing Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and, yes, that he’s pushing Bryant, too. The Lakers are still struggling to find themselves, but Brown is transforming them on the fly, fortifying them defensively and moving far away from the triangle offense. For everything that’s changed, Bryant still believes the core of a championship contender is here.
“We have our own Big Three,” Bryant said. “Andrew. Pau. And myself. Those are three bona fide All-Stars.
And you’d put that against anyone else’s three?
“Yes, I would.”
This promises to be a grueling sprint of a season where no one wants to hear about tired legs and injured players. Bryant’s always made it harder for Lakers teammates to sit out with injuries, because they know he’s plays through everything. For Gasol and Bynum, this has never been more important. “Mike’s pushed us hard, especially our bigs,” Bryant said of Brown. “He demands a lot from Pau. … But you’re seeing, Andrew has an incredible drive, an ambition to be great. And we need to encourage him in that.”
That’s a far cry from the way Bryant used to view the young big man in the middle of the L.A. lineup. But since starting the season late following his four-game suspension, Bynum has come a long way from the player who showed only flashes of his ability in the past. In his first half-dozen games this season, Bynum is averaging 18.8 points and 15.7 rebounds per game while shooting 53.6 percent. What he’s brought to the early part of this season has been consistency. He has only one game when he didn’t score in double figures and has hit double digits in rebounds every time out.
Of course, it all hangs by the threads that are those torn ligaments that require Bryant to get injections before games and to do everything he can to keep it loosen and avoid further injury. The wrist did not stop Bryant from earning Western Conference Player of the Week honors. Nor did the grueling opening schedule that had the creaky Lakers – average age 31 with a starting backcourt of Bryant (33) and Derek Fisher (37) – playing 10 times in the first 15 days.
All in all, it’s not fatigue that should be of concern to the Lakers as much as a bench that looks like a footstool this season, according to Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times, especially now that Matt Barnes has moved into the starting lineup.
The lack of rest hasn’t irked Bryant, who has hoisted a league-high 23 shots per game despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, as much as questions about his stamina.
“Do I look tired?” he asked with a steely-eyed glance toward a reporter who had inquired about fatigue.
Of course, exhaustion is only one of the Lakers’ worries. They have a bench that has combined for a measly 24.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game — totals that have declined since sixth man extraordinaire Lamar Odom departed for the Dallas Mavericks.
Reserve shooting guard Shannon Brown is also gone, having moved on to Phoenix, but the Lakers still have Metta World Peace, for better or worse. The small forward’s minutes have dipped along with his production this month, when he has averaged 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 17.8 minutes a game.
While the Lakers haven’t yet won a road game and will get their mettle tested next week when they go back-to-back at Miami and Orlando, for now, at least, the solution to saving the season no longer seems to rely on swinging that trade for Dwight Howard.