Bynum believes in his knees, now and later
EL SEGUNDO – Andrew Bynum is still on the rise seven years into his NBA career, which is why it’s easy to chronicle his slow climb.
From the happy-to-lucky kid who showered in his socks and then raided the hotel-room mini-bar … to the inconsistent, very slow role player Kobe Bryant wanted traded for more proven help … to the still-injury-prone, still-tradable but emerging commodity capable of crushing opposing centers’ spirits and J.J. Barea’s ribcage.
In the Lakers’ sharpest blueprint, they would have traded Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for 26-year-old Chris Paul, reinforced the power-forward spot with 23-year-old Michael Beasley and swapped an All-Star Bynum for 26-year-old Dwight Howard at the trade deadline to put the final massive piece of the puzzle in place.
All that, in theory, was how the Lakers’ past glory would seamlessly evolve into the present and future.
All that, however, will wind up less a part of Lakers history than Jason Kapono.
What the Lakers are looking at now is just how high Bynum can climb, especially after he reached up Sunday to block 10 shots, as many as anyone ever in an NBA playoff game, and post the league’s first postseason triple-double from a center since David Robinson did it five years before Tim Duncan even entered the league.
How incredible would it be if the Lakers won a championship this season after being fully prepared to trade both Bynum and Gasol? Well, to show you just how locked in Bynum is on making that unlikely scenario happen …
Bynum told me Monday he has not even discussed his offseason plans to have the innovative German procedure – the one that Bryant has raved publicly about helping him last offseason – on his troublesome knees.
“It hasn’t come up,” Bynum said.
Bynum laughed as he said it – but as exciting as the idea of an even stronger, quicker Bynum is, he has seriously kept himself from delving too deep into that project.
For all the cries of immaturity and unprofessionalism he has evoked and endured in his breakout season, Bynum is that locked in on winning now.
“I’ve got to really look at the process,” Bynum said. “I know it helped Kobe a lot, Alex Rodriguez and some other guys. I don’t know exactly what it does; I haven’t really dealt with it. I’m just getting through these playoffs, and then that’ll be the first thing I do over the summer.”
Bynum said he isn’t certain he will go through with the procedure – which involves drawing blood, then altering it on a molecular level into a protein-rich serum that greatly improves joint function upon injection. It looks awfully promising, though.
“We sent MRIs, and they said it can help me,” Bynum said. “But I haven’t made the final decision.”
Bynum has a genetic predisposition for knee injuries, ligamentous laxity (or “looseness”) contributing to hurting his left knee in 2008 and then his right knee in 2009 and ’10. He wears a brace over the right knee in games and practices and has been told to wear it for the rest of his career. His risk management is so intensive that he even planned to wear a brace over the left knee in the 2009-10 season despite it not bothering him at any point during the previous season.
When you consider the confidence and activity that Bynum has been showing lately – after, it should be noted, he got a lubricating injection in his right knee at the All-Star break as part of his doctor-mandated maintenance – he deserves a ton of credit for overcoming the fear factors with his knees.
He averaged 18.7 points for the season, not missing one game because of injury. (Bynum did have painful corns on his feet for most of the season, so he’s wearing those three pairs of socks of different length to fill his shoes for a particularly snug, secure feel. The different lengths? That’s just Bynum being different.)
Bynum played fewer than 28 minutes per game last season, when Phil Jackson admitted to trying to minimize Bynum’s exposure to injury. Bynum played 35-plus minutes per game this season.
His 30 rebounds came in the Lakers’ most impressive regular-season victory at San Antonio while Bryant was injured. Now his 10 blocked shots were delivered in the Lakers’ playoff tone-setter – and the only real piece of news to come out of that opener against an unready, inexperienced Denver team was Bynum so embracing the pivotal defensive aspect of his job description.
“It’s not pressure,” he said about the Lakers needing his best to go the distance this postseason. “It’s just the truth.”
There was understandable concern in the Lakers’ inner circle during the regular season as Bynum chased stats, thirsted for 3-pointers, shrugged off discipline and blared music through his headphones that he might be more about entitlement than a title hunt.
This new Lakers coaching staff that hardly knew him wondered more than a few times whether Bynum testing limits meant he wanted more … or less.
After all, he got two NBA championship rings already, so does this guy wearing his new All-Star ring everywhere really care?
Well, even with all that has changed in him, Bynum has always been hungry to win – dating way back to when his age made his juvenile habits more appropriate. He goofed around, but he never backed away from a challenge – whether it was basketball, video games, math problems or the chessboard.
Bynum’s plans to visit Germany to treat his knees are his latest example of Kobe-like ambition to achieve more tomorrow. The vagueness of those future plans is a testament to Bynum’s full intention to seize today.
We all have sad stories to tell about what didn’t happen for us yesterday.
You know Bynum could.
But we don’t get 30 rebounds or block 10 shots by thinking about what our knees might not be able to do.
We reach our potential in life by finding freedom from the limiting beliefs of our past.