Thursday, May 10, 2012

The No. 1 Laker? Bynum not Kobe

As irritating as this may be to so many, it's a fact. The Los Angeles Lakers not only rule the LA sports world, they rule the NBA--the league's glam unit. Yet, they're not even the best team--barely, maybe, in the top 5. What happens to them, though,  is national news. Well, something important has happened to them this season, something that hasn't received much attention.

There's been a power shift on the team. All those Kobe Bryant fans don't want to hear this, but it can't be ignored. Center Andrew Bynum has slipped past him into the top spot on the team. Bynum is now the No. 1 Laker--the most important player on the team, the one who's play determines whether the team wins or loses, the player who can load the team on his back and drag them to victory. Kobe, who can't do that any more, has slipped to No.2.

When Bynum is playing hard, is mentally and physically engaged in the game for all his minutes on the court, the Lakers win. In fact, when Bynum is at his best---and they're all healthy, they become a legitimate threat to win the NBA title. But when he plays half-heartedly, which is all too often, the Lakers don't have a chance.

The first game in the Denver Nuggets series, when Bynum scored that unique triple double, including ten blocks, scared the hell out of the rest of the league. That Bynum, a frightening defensive force, dominated the game, was Dwight Howard with effective post moves, the reincarnation of Wilt Chamberlain, blocking and altering shots, making the Nuggets think twice about driving to the basket. That was the new No. 1 Laker in full glory.

As we know, though, Bynum doesn't always play hard. Sometimes he'll take a whole half off or become disinterested when teammates aren't passing him the ball or, for whatever reason, mentally checks out. To his credit, Bryant doesn't slack off. He always plays hard.
But at his age, Bryant is no longer a defensive force and is basically a jump shooter. He can't personally guide the Lakers to wins any more. Yes, he does have his spurts, when his shot is falling, as it was late in the Lakers' 102-99 loss Tuesday night. In that game Bynum did more pouting than playing hard. If he'd played well, the Lakers wouldn't have needed a late-game bail-out.

All Kobe can do now is score points. But when he scores big, takes lots of shots, he become a liability, upsetting the offensive balance, stealing shots from the big men,  Bynum and Pau Gasol..

The No. 1 Laker has the fate of the team in his hands. If Bynum played with fury and focus all the time, the Lakers would have disposed of the Nuggets in four games and would be licking their chops, ready to feast on Oklahoma City.

Which side of Bynum will show up for the Denver game tonight? You never know. That's the downside of the new No. 1 Laker.