This is really a combination of two recurring thoughts I've been having. The first? The Pecking Order. The second? The Reverse Bandwagon. Allow me to explain after the jump.
The Pecking Order
Before the season, the Lakers seemed to be coming apart. Pau was invisible. Bynum had acted like a thug and got a suspension. Kobe was talking about revenge and wasted years. Phil was gone. And Bynum demanded a greater role. We all kinda shrugged it off. This is the guy who we'd watched play 10 minutes a game and get injured every other week. He was slow, limping, and immature. People even compared him to Greg Oden. Sure, there were people who thought he was Dwight Howard lite (coughJimBusscough), but most people would have traded him in a heartbeat for someone like CP3 or DH12.
And Kobe dropped this comment in response. The pecking order on the Lakers goes like this: 1. Me. 2. Pau. 3. Bynum. In direct response to Bynum wanting a primary star role. Quite a situation.
But we fast-forward to March and what do we see? A Lakers squad that's actually in position to take a top-3 seed, three legitimate stars, and a MONSTER. Bynum is playing 30+ minutes with no real backup. He's dominating games, and making the best of EVERY touch he gets. He's playing athletically and a bit faster. And most importantly? Not a hint of injury so far. Sure, he got knee treatments. But he's playing like a different person. He's playing, not like Dwight Howard, but...is it sacrilege?...a certain Shaquille O'Neal. If he plays like this in every game...we have a chance (more on that in a sec).
But here's three reasons why Bynum is now No. 2.
Exhibit A: The Signature Play
One of my favorite plays of the season came at the end of the Celtics game. Kobe gets the ball, the double-team, and instead of hoisting it, he passes it to....Bynum. He clearly trusts Bynum to close out. And Bynum delivered. Last year? Down the stretch, out went Bynum and in went Odom and Gasol. Also, I rarely notice Kobe giving up the ball on those circumstances. This isn't because he's a ball-hug. Kobe has always held to the mantra that only people capable of making the shot should take the shot. Sometimes, I feel he hoists it up because he doesn't trust his teammates to. Derek used to be the guy (2009 Finals) but Kobe recognizes Derek isn't really up to it anymore. Pau, Metta, Odom - none of them ever get Kobe's pass. But recently, I feel Kobe's beginning to let Bynum take posssessions in crunch time.
Exhibit B: Touches in 4th Quarter
In the fourth quarter, Bynum stays in, his touches go up, and he delivers. In last night's game, it felt like it was all-Bynum. In fact, almost all our points were scored by Bynum and Kobe. Take a look at the box score. 7 Memphis players are in double digits. Lakers? Bynum and Kobe. These are now our stars heading into the future.
Exhibit C: Dominance
The point here is that Bynum is just ballin'. Let's say nobody really wanted him as no. 2. They have no options. He's playing out of this world right now. He's a double-double machine, he's playing regular minutes, and he PUNKS every guy he goes against. This 37 point performance? Marc Gasol, one of the top-5 centers in the game. He's playing at a level that LA hasn't seen from the center position since Shaq.
Which leads me to Thought 2: the Reverse Bandwagon.
There are a growing number of people who are saying the following:
The Lakers aren't a sexy pick for Finals, but no one wants to meet them in the playoffs.
I've been on the bandwagon forever. So have Mike Brown and Doc Rivers. Guess who joined? Bill Simmons. He's conveniently dropped off the Clippers wagon and tentatively hedged his bets for the Lakers. He predicted we'd be a lottery team. Now? He's saying he didn't expect our big 3 to stay healthy playing these minutes. Frankly, I didn't expect it either. But because they are, barring injury, he admits that the Lakers are a dangerous playoff team. This team still has a championship starting 5 - even if they are old now. Derek and Metta are both clutch-time performers. We all complain about them, but they'll flip the switch for the playoffs. You watch and see.