HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The man who coached Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace (back when he was just Ron Artest) is telling us that Andrew Bynum is no big deal.
Phil Jackson was contacted recently by the Los Angeles Times and basically had this message regarding the increasingly volatile and unpredictable Laker center: chill.
The former Lakers coach told The Times he enjoyed seeing Bynum’s development, even if it had been filled with inexplicable turns the last few weeks.
“Bynum is not quite mature, but everyone should relax and watch him grow up,” Jackson said via email. “This year has been a big step for him offensively…nice to see…and when he takes up the mantle as defensive captain the Lakers can get back in the hunt.”
Jackson was strict with Bynum while coaching him for six seasons, prodding him about his fitness, getting more rebounds and playing better defense.
Bynum’s on-court troubles began last month when he tossed up a three-point shot early in the third quarter of a close game against Golden State. Bynum didn’t exactly apologize afterward after being yanked from the game.
He was fined a total of either $5,000 or $7,500 by the team for his conduct relating to that game, which included shrugging and frowning for a TV camera while sitting at the end of the bench.
From Bynum’s more distant past, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lauded his former protege for being able to “learn about the game and stay healthy to become an All-Star.”
But Abdul-Jabbar, who mentored Bynum for a handful of seasons, showed concern about his recent on-court activities.
“That’s something he has to deal with because they need him on the court. He needs to figure out a way to stay out there,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who will make a guest appearance Tuesday on the Fox show “New Girl.”
I certainly can respect where Jackson’s coming from as we often forget Bynum is only 24 years old. He has lived much of his adult life in the fish bowl/temptation garden known as Los Angeles. So, yeah, a maturation process to a degree was and is to be expected.
But what’s not acceptable is when Bynum behaves like a punk, such as when he tried to hurt J.J. Barea last spring in the playoffs. Compared to that, taunting the Houston bench, as Bynum did recently, was mild stuff. Alarming — given his pattern of weirdness of late — but mild.
Here’s what I never understood about young millionaire athletes: Shouldn’t life be about happiness? Celebration for your good fortune? Then what’s with the attitude?
Bynum is rich and healthy (finally) and plays basketball for the Lakers. That sounds like a pretty good deal to the rest of us. Sure, he probably has life issues (like everyone else) that we don’t know about. And yet, the important basics — health, with wealth a distant second — seem to be in order here. Plus, he’ll make even more money in two summers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. All this for a kid who was drafted at 17 at a time when he hardly looked like a future NBA star.
In a sense, Bynum won a lottery ticket and a better life, not to mention a possible long and productive NBA career. Oh, well. Some people are wired differently.
Bynum is the best news to happen to the Lakers this season. He’s better than ever, is a double-double machine most nights and is giving the Lakers a solid shot in the playoffs when the cast surrounding their big three (Bynum, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant) has never been more suspect. After Dwight Howard, Bynum is probably the best center in the game.
He’s a solid pro. Now he needs to carry himself like one.