LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 16: Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on March 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 97-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
After he won last week's Player of the Week, I asked Andrew Bynum to make us believe. He was once again playing great and I wanted to put faith in him. I was slowly coming back around on him. You could say my doubt that Jim Buss would ever trade him forced my about-face. After all, I'll always root for the jersey. Bynum just needed to show me what he had down deep. Could he be a guy we'd be comfortable with deciding the rest of Kobe Bryant's legacy? Would he be a player we could trust the world's greatest franchise with? I wasn't so sure. We were seven years into a career that was still described as potential, or injuries. Bynum had never really arrived.
What a difference two weeks makes.
In such a short span, the kid has started an All-Star Game, changed the minds of millions of Lakers fans, seemingly put a legend at ease, and made Jim Buss look smart. It's hard enough to do the first two, and seemed damn-near impossible to accomplish the latter two, but he did it in such convincing fashion the season has taken on a new shape. He's forced a change in our perspective.
So what. Tell me you didn't say that to yourself as you watched or read about Dwight Howard "deciding" to opt-in with the Magic for another season. Even if you thought trading for Dwight was the right move, you had to have felt something about the trade never was. For the past year, we'd been looking forward to March 15th, feeling it was a no-brainer, and fearful that Jim Buss just might be dumb enough to never pull the trigger. On top of that, there were various reports of Kobe's unease, and Pau's supposed mental fragility. At the middle of it all was this oft-injured, immature 24-year-old who'd never been asked to lead before. Everything centered around what Bynum could do (pun intended). Today, everything the Lakers have done to prepare for the future makes sense. With Bynum looking the part, the Lakers appear to be in position to transition into the future without sacrificing the ability to compete. Jim Buss doesn't look so crazy now (no wonder he wanted Chris Paul). The Lakers got younger and more athletic and still managed to save money, all while keeping an eye on the new luxury-tax rules set to go into effect soon.
Game-saving bucket over KG to beat the Celtics. 37 and 16 against All-Star Marc Gasol, then 25 and 18 the next night in overtime against the New Orleans Hornets. Two nights later, 15 and 14 against Minnesota was his off game. But those are only silly stats compared to the genuine smile his play has put on Kobe's face. I don't know if it was gradual or overnight, but Kobe's been playing like a guy who finally realizes after 5 seasons that he can win a championship with Bynum, not in spite of him. That makes all the difference in the world. Oh, and a new point guard doesn't hurt.