The Los Angeles Lakers' locker room is in quiet turmoil, according to sources close to two players. It was riddled with negativity before Derek Fisher was traded, but he was the glue that was holding it together. Now, however, the "glue" is on the bench in Oklahoma City, spreading his smarts there. Meanwhile the Lakers' locker room has sprung leaks and there's no one to plug up the holes.
What's corroding the Lakers now is both center Andrew Bynum and coach Mike Brown. Bynum is out of control and Brown, who should be in control, isn't. The one person who could soothe the situation--Fisher--isn't around any more.
Bynum doesn't really listen to anyone but he did respect the elder Fisher, who kept a lid on the potentially explosive center. But, these days, Bynum is really getting a sense of his power and the fumes are making him giddy. He's been swept away by all the praise. Though 24, lately he's been acting like a petulant 12-year-old.
A solid All-Star, he's far and away the best center in the Western Conference and the second-best center in the game, after Orlando's Dwight Howard. But the gap is narrowing. On defense, Howard is tops, but Bynum is his superior on offense. No center in the NBA can match Bynum's post moves, while Howard is basically a dunker with the touch of an elephant. Bynum, however, is a canny offensive player with an array of tricky moves. Unfortunately, though, as his skills have improved his ego has ballooned. A few months ago to the "Bynum or Howard" question:, the answer was clearly Howard. Now it's not so clear-cut. Some more offensive-minded teams might chose Bynum, who's well aware his stock is soaring.
According to the two sources, Bynum is really feeling his oats. He's dissing coach Brown right and left. Taking that bone-headed three pointer, which got him benched, was a slap at Brown. So was last night's gaffe--getting kicked out of the Houston game just after Brown warned him to be careful about picking up a second technical foul. And Bynum often gets lazy on defense, which makes Brown angry, but the coach can't get him to shape up. If you think Bynum's attitude toward Brown is bad in public, said the sources, it's worse in the locker room. He's not afraid of management either. He was fined for assorted insubordinations, including not bothering to show up for a management meeting. Reportedly, it wasn't the first time. Management, though, doesn't scare him. His biggest supporter is boss Jim Buss. Anyway, what are the Lakers going to do to him, trade him? Yeah, really. Bynum has all the leverage and he knows it.
Brown clearly can't control him. But that's no surprise. The coach isn't too popular with the rest of the locker room either. He and Kobe Bryant have been on thin ice since he kept Kobe on the bench in the fourth quarter as the game against the Memphis Grizzlies slipped away. The players not only hate Brown's micro-managing they aren't too crazy about his erratic substitution patterns or his ultra-technical offensive schemes either. Accustomed to former coach Phil Jackson's casual approach they're not taking kindly to Brown's excessive control and nitpicking. The lesser players tend to follow the stars. Since Bryant and Bynum aren't too thrilled with Brown, the other players have adopted that negative attitude. And there's no Fisher around to patch up relationships and spread common sense.
This is what will probably happen. For a while, Bynum will calm down, say all the right things and do what Brown says, until the cocky center gets in one of his rebellious moods and does whatever he wants--the team and the coach be damned.
Can anyone on the team or in the organizational tell Bynum what to do? Not really? Can a team this dysfunctional get far in the playoffs? Not really.