Talking with: Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum has only been an NBA player for one season, but already carries a few distinctions. The last high school kid drafted as a lottery pick (and unless the league changes its recently implemented rules, that ain't changing anytime soon). A definitive symbol of the Lakers rebuilding for the future. A would-be heir to the throne held by a string of dominant purple and gold big men. It's a lot to throw on the shoulders of a project more raw than a side of uncooked beef, but that's about the size of things for Bynum these days. The kid who hasn't spent a year as a legal voter has an undeniably full plate as he prepares for his second season.
Bynum's rookie campaign was a mix of occasional highlights (those three minutes against Shaq trail only "81" and the Lakers-Suns series as the 2006 season's most exciting moment), typical rookie lumps (not much meaningful action from March on) and learning (basically every minute he was awake). His sophomore effort will be closely watched as the kid gloves slowly get removed in evaluating Bynum's progress. Fans will still need to show patience, and in turn, the young center will need to show more consistency. We caught up with Bynum by phone on Tuesday to find out his thoughts on a rookie season passed, his expectations for 2007, and the pressures involved with picking up where the Big Fella left off. Here's what he had to say.
Andrew Kamenetzky: So how's your offseason been going?
Andrew Bynum: My offseason's been going pretty well. I had a decent summer league and I've been working out hard all summer. I took only four weeks off the whole summer. Two in the beginning and two when I went to Aruba. And then I came back and started working out again.
AK: How was Aruba?
AB: Aruba was really nice, what everyone talks about. It was nice weather and everything. White beaches. A nice little getaway.
AK: How hard was it to get back into the gym after a couple weeks in Aruba?
AB: It wasn't very hard. I have to admit, I was missing the gym a little bit. There was no way for me to really work out in Aruba. I was in great shape and then I kind of lost it a little bit, so I was anxious to get back in the gym.
AK: What specifically have you been working on during the offseason?
AB: I hit the weights really really hard. I've gotten a lot stronger. Also, I've been working with Kareem on developing a hook shot and having a go-to move and a counter move. Pretty much all-around game. They say you're supposed to work on one thing and make that better. Every summer, I've kind of targeted a lot of different areas. Defense is included in that.
Brian Kamenetzky: Comparing this summer to last summer, where do you think you were able to make your progress?
AB: Last summer for me was really developing an offensive game, developing a go-to move and then getting in shape. This summer was more about developing counters, a counter to the go-to move. Getting a lot stronger physically, so that I can take the wear and tear of being on the block. And also, focusing a little bit on defense. Last year, we got beat off the pick and roll a lot, so that was a focus. And again, like I said, just offense. Pounding left handed and right handed hooks. Jump shots. Things like that.
AK: What are you weighing in at these days? You looked bigger during the Summer League games.
AB: Anywhere from 285 to 289. It fluctuates.
BK: And how much of that fitness was done to make sure you looked good in Aruba?
AB: (Laughs) I didn't even know I was going in the early summer, so not much.
AK: How would you assess your summer league performances?
AB: I had a few good games and a couple of poor games. I think one was against Dallas and the other was against Memphis. I couldn't get the ball against Memphis. They did a good job. The big kid from Greece (Andreas Glyniadikas) was high siding and he had help from behind and I got frustrated, so I just stopped working hard, calling for the ball and holding my position. Kind of started getting pushed around. And the one game against Dallas, I kind of slipped a little bit. But other than those, I had a pretty solid performance. Better than last year and that's all you can ask for.
AK: In terms of the Memphis game, where you got frustrated and stopped asking for the ball, is that a mental thing, in terms of keeping yourself in the game?
AB: Both of those games were off a back-to-back, so it was little bit of an energy problem, combined with being frustrated. I guess that's it.
AK: So what do you take away from that, in terms of learning from it?
AB: Well, I've learned a whole bunch of new counters for anybody that high sides me. Just to step up some more, so if they continue to high side me, the whole back side is open. You can go "corner and in," where we close the triangle and kick back to the corner. Come right in if he's high siding me. Pretty much just learned to hold my field, because as soon as the ball gets swung to the other side of the court, you're gonna be wide open. I gained a lot from that, actually.
BK: How much does it help you just to get out and play the kind of minutes that you had in the summer league? Even going back to high school, you still haven't played a lot of basketball, relative to the rest of the NBA.
AB: That Summer League was great for me, because (playing) about 33 minutes a game, I think it was something like that, that was a really good experience for me. I'm looking to get some more minutes during the season. It's good to experience how that would feel. Summer League is not the NBA, but at the same time, it felt good to go up and down for 33 minutes. It felt great for me to do that, basically because I haven't played like that, I don't think ever, because high school basketball is like a joke compared to the NBA. It was definitely good for me to get up and down the court like that. It also gets you in shape, so it was good thing to have mid-summer.
BK: You're going to be coming into camp this year obviously still a young player, but it's not your first camp. You're not a rookie anymore. What feels different to you?
AB: I have a lot more confidence, I think, than the first year I came. I kind of didn't know what to expect, other than what was going on, really. But now I have a year under my belt with the triangle offense. I'm starting to understand that a lot better. And like I said, I just have a lot more confidence. I know what's coming. I know what's expected of me and things like that, so now it's time to go out there and perform.
AK: At this stage in your career, you'll always be learning. But do you feel at this point like you're ready for more responsibility, to show the team that they can count on you more than they had last season?
AB: Definitely. Definitely. I think that's what all this hard work was for in the summer, to earn some respect of my teammates and to earn some minutes out there on the court so I can help the team win. I think we just need better inside presence. We need to do more defensive rebounding. We need to do more in blocking shots and things like that. And I think if I can go out there and provide some energy to the veterans, just block shots and get rebounds, I think that's what they want me to do. Block shots, get rebounds and run the court.
AK: You used the phrase "earn some respect of my teammates." How do you go about, in your mind, earning the respect of someone like Kobe Bryant or Lamar Odom?
AB: To me, I think the only way you can earn the respect of Kobe is if he sees you in there busting your butt, working hard, going 110% every day. You know what I mean? Trying to get better and improve the team. All he wants to do is win, so if you take that attitude for yourself, I think you'll get more respect from everybody.
BK: Is it nice to have an idea of what an NBA season is like? How long it goes? I know you struggled a little bit with injuries at times and hit that wall a little bit. Is it nice to not have to worry about those little things because you've seen them before?
AB: You never really want to worry about getting hurt or anything like that. But yeah, I do understand the depth of an NBA season now and how to take care of myself better. No more McDonald's and stuff. Staying up all night. You need to get your rest. Eating healthy. Providing the proper energy to your muscles, and things like that. I definitely got adjusted to that in last year's experience, so that won't be any new thing for me. I don't know about getting hurt or anything like that. I got hurt in training camp last year. That kind of set me back a little bit for getting playing time. But hopefully the new body that I have now, after lifting and strength training, will help, and I won't get so many injuries.
AK: When you look back on your rookie season, how do you think of it? Things that went the way you wanted? Things that maybe didn't?
AB: I definitely didn't have as good (a season) as I thought. But I learned a lot of things from my rookie season. I wouldn't take it back. It kind of lit a fire for me this summer to work harder to get out there on the court. I mean, I didn't really get much time as a rook, so I didn't really have any highlights or anything like that. But I just look at it as a learning experience for me and I just move on.
BK: Are you excited to have a guy like Jordan Farmar around? Someone to carry your luggage and do all that stuff that rookies have to do?
AB: I didn't really mind that. I was a fortunate rookie. We had four of us. We were like the second youngest team, I believe, in the NBA last year, so it wasn't that bad. All the duties were divided up between us. I just hope that he has another rook to help him out because that would be terrible to do that stuff by himself.
BK: You're a big guy. Big guy. Big bag. Stuff weighs a lot.
AB: I don't know. I don't think I'm gonna do too much bossing around. I believe I'm still the youngest player in the NBA, so...
AK: Do you feel sorry enough for Jordan that you're not going to make him carry anything?
AB: I don't know about that.
AK: How much easier did it make your rookie year having Von (Wafer), Devin (Green) and Ronny (Turiaf) around, in terms of feeling comfortable in that transition?
AB: Oh, man! Just being on a young team made my rookie season a lot easier. I didn't really have the problems that everybody else who comes from high school normally has, when people leave him in a room and they can't do anything with their teammates. We all pretty much did the same things. We're all around the same age. At least I had three other rooks that were 22 and under, so that was a good experience for me.
AK: Did you guys become pretty tight over the course of the season?
AB: Yeah, we all did. All the young dudes. We used have a shooting drill team. We called ourselves "The Four Rooks" and we'd be on the same team all the time, trying to beat the veterans. It was a pretty fun experience.
AK: How did you tend to fare against the vets?
AB: (laughs) Not too well.
AK: What has it been like for you being coached by men with the stature of Phil Jackson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Right off the bat, that's your first experience with professional coaching.
AB: That's been great. Kareem is a super-intelligent guy. He's teaching me a lot about footwork, balance, having a go-to move and then having a counter. And he definitely stresses the importance of being able to use your right and left hand equally. We work on hooks with the right and left hand all the time. And we do some defense.
As far as having Phil there, the triangle is a great offense, you know what I mean? It definitely utilizes the big man. The big man gets touches, so there's no complaints about it there. The offense really doesn't initiate until the block man touches the ball. And Phil is also a great teacher. He's been watching tape of me in the Summer League. We spoke and he told me some things that I should be doing on the block, as far as little things on offense. It's a pretty good relationship with both guys.
BK: I know you hear things like, "You have to be patient." "It's going to take time for him to develop." Do you think of yourself as someone who's going to need some time to develop or do you want to make that impact as quickly as possible?
AB: I think everyone needs time to develop. But I think I can definitely be able to contribute, at least, this season. And then in seasons to come, get heavier minutes, more important minutes, and then take it from there. One step at a time. I'm still only 18 years old, so I got a lot of time to grow and my game tighter. And that's what I've been doing this summer.
BK: Speaking of that, you actually got a little taller this summer, right?
AB: I believe so, but I think I'm done now. I think I'm 7'1" with shoes, seven and a quarter without. Something like that.
AK: Even as basketball player, is there a height that you would personally prefer to cap out at?
AB: I hope I'm done now. I don't want to get any taller now. I think I have a pretty nice, long wingspan. I don't need to grow any more. I don't want to get any more gangly than I already am.
BK: Do you ever think about what your life could have been like had you attended U Conn?
AB: Pretty good, if I had gone to U Conn. But I got to skip going to U Conn to come to, like you said, great coaches like Phil Jackson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That's the highest level already, so if I was ready for that now, then I think it was a better decision to make.
BK: What's it like being 19 years old in the NBA?
AB: 18, right now.
BK: When do you turn 19?
AB: Three days before the season starts.
BK: Well, I knew I was close. What's it like to be that young?
AB: You know, it was kind of crazy how it happened for me. One summer, I had my mind totally set on going to U Conn. I was working hard to get ready for the U Conn season. Running in the stands, lifting weights and doing all sorts of stuff like that. And then one day, my AAU coach told me I needed to give the NBA a shot. We hosted a workout in New York and got some positive feedback. Then the Lakers had worked me out up in Chicago and they liked me, so they said they were going to select me. It kind of happened fast for me. And it's cool to be a young player in the NBA. I'm lucky to be with the Lakers with a bunch of rooks that were my age. I didn't get too much hazing or anything like that. I got through my rookie season.
AK: You're, in essence, replacing Shaq, a legendary big man in Los Angeles. Do you feel any pressure in terms of keeping that legacy of big man going or is one of those things were it is what it is and you're just looking to be Andrew Bynum?
AB: It is what it is and I'm looking to be Andrew Bynum. At the same time, I want Andrew Bynum to be a great player, also. So that's why I'm going in there and working out like I am. I don't feel like shoes to fill or anything like that, any pressures like that. But I feel like I have pressure on myself to be as good as I can be.