Kobe and Shaq this isn’t, not even in the same universe not even the same circumstance. But there is a very secret struggle being waged. Bryant is still the best player in a Laker uniform. That is undeniable. However if you put your ear to the ground you’ll notice the sounds of a slow shift towards Andrew Bynum occurring in the front office.
You don’t have to be a Lakers insider to know there is a cold war being waged. The dismissals of Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher were the most visible indications of a new era in Lakerland. Before the season began it was all the behind the scenes maneuvering in the font office that clearly displayed where this franchise was headed.
But you might have to do a little reading between the lines to find where the real struggle is occurring. Or you could just watch any of the recent Laker games to see before your very eyes where this battle is being waged.
Jim Buss has backed Bynum from day one. He insisted on drafting the youngster during a time when Phil Jackson needed immediate help. Buss was instrumental in ensuring Bynum was under contract despite, at the time, only showing brief glimpses of his potential. With his emergence as one of the NBA’s great low-post players it only makes sense that the Lakers are already announcing Bynum’s option will be picked up for next season.
Meanwhile it has been Mike Brown’s mission from day one to get Bynum more involved in the offense. A philosophy that no doubt won over Jim Buss during the interview process. In recent weeks Brown even went as far as to ponder how Bynum wasn’t even more involved prior to his arrival. A barb Phil Jackson might have taken offense to were he not so busy polishing off any one of his 11 championship rings.
Another recent occurrence is the coming and going of Kobe Bryant’s offense. He’s still the best scorer in the league, a matchup nightmare nobody wants a piece of unless they’ve got a Paul Kersey.
However with each off-night of Bryant’s that usually seems to occur when Bynum is having a monster game, the same questions are asked of Brown. Everyone wants to know why Drew isn’t being given even more touches.
After the debacle against Utah, Brown took offense to the line of questioning. He referenced how Bynum is double-teamed with each touch. To be sure Drew is seeing an awful lot more attention these days. Also, it wasn’t like Kobe was forcing shots during his wretched 3-for-20 night. Bryant was off and Bynum was on. It’s just that simple.
What is proving difficult for Brown is finding a healthy balance.
Kobe put his faith in Bynum during that emotional win over the Celtics recently. That gesture wasn’t lost on any Laker fan. It certainly symbolized a trust Kobe had pretty much only reserved for D-Fish. It also illustrated just where the ball should be going first and foremost in L.A.’s offense.
Bynum will never be confused with Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Still, Brown’s assertion that double-teams are diminishing Bynum’s effectiveness is faulty. Shaq, at times, drew four defenders to himself. Instead of backing off in getting him the rock the Lakers would usually keep force feeding the ball into the post. That approach served a duel purpose. The attention drawn to Shaq would open opportunities on the perimeter for others. It would also allow O’Neal to bully his way to racking up fouls on opponents.
Drew isn’t the same beast on the block Shaq is but he can draw fouls anytime he gets the rock. Naturally Bynum needs to be trusted to make better decisions too. He’s turnover prove and on occasion reacts too late to the double team.
Still, it is on Coach Brown to take the occasional hardline approach with Bryant when he’s not making his shots. Bynum was an unreal 12 of 14 from the field during the Utah loss. I’m not saying it’s as easy as just passing him the ball and letting nature take over. But when a guy is in a groove like that then you let him shoot himself out of being hot. Think of it as the same courtesy extended to Bryant when he’s cold.
In all there is no real controversy. At least not between Kobe and Drew. They’re just fine. The real struggle is going on in the front office where Bynum’s stock is gaining more momentum by the day. Kobe’s decline isn’t such that he’s expendable but the future of the franchise is linked to Bynum.
Right now it’s all status quo. Give it a couple more mixed nights of bad Kobe and good Drew and you might hear a different tune.