Co-dependency between Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is integral to Lakers' success
It was a scene, as shown in the photo above, that reflected the Lakers' pure joy after securing their second consecutive championship and rectifying their 2008 Finals loss to Boston. But the scene also illustrated the improved relationship between the Lakers' two big men, which largely helped the team to another title run. For Bynum, the scene also resembled something he'd do throughout the 2009-10 season when he'd huddle up with Gasol.
"I was trying to keep him inspired," Bynum said. "He doesn't need it. He's a great player. I would tell him to grab as many rebounds as he can."
Before, it seemed like Bynum almost dreaded playing with Gasol because it usually resulted in Bynum taking a back seat. After averaging more than 20 points and 12 rebounds during Gasol's 11-game absence due to a right hamstring injury at the beginning of the season, Bynum entered Christmas averaging only 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds. And when Gasol missed six games in mid-January because of a left hamstring injury, Bynum averaged four double-doubles. Fast forward to the end of the season, and you have both players equally acknowledging the other helped complement their game.
"It helps because he's a big presence and he's a guy that can be very effective down low," Gasol said of Bynum, who averaged a career-high 15 points in the 2009-10 season. "He attracts a defender with him so he adds up a lot of space and size. He makes it easy when he's out there with the spacing. We played well together. I think we can still develop more to both of our games together when we're out there."
There are going to be plenty of reports suggesting that Bynum is going to be on the trading block with free agency approaching. It's a subject that sparked little reaction from the young center, who said, "I don't even care about the trade rumors. I love the game so I'll play anywhere. I know it's a cliche, but that's the truth. Hopefully I'll be here for a long time." The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner also quoted a source familiar with the thinking of the Lakers' front office who says the Bynum trade rumors are "ridiculous." Nonetheless, some believe because of Bynum's injury history, including a sore right knee that kept him limited throughout the playoffs, he should be on the trading block.
It's a misconceived notion for several reasons. Part of the reason why fans questioned Bynum's hunger for the game points to his slow rehabilitation process and poor attitude when he missed 46 games in the 2007-08 season, including the entire postseason because of a left knee injury, as well as sitting out 32 games last season because of a right knee injury. This season, he played through the torn cartilage in his right knee and earned universal respect within the locker room. In years past, the Lakers easily absorbed Bynum's absence. This season, the Lakers went 6-7 when Bynum missed the final 13 games of the regular season because of an Achilles' tendon problem. Bynum's presence helped Gasol thrive on the high- and mid-range jumper. Gasol's presence allowed Bynum to camp inside for easy put-backs and lobs.
Moving forward, Bynum's eager to take pointers from Gasol. vowing to replicate Gasol's counter with his left hook. As Gasol's two hamstring injuries prompted him to sit out this off-season with the Spanish national team, Bynum is also looking at different ways at managing his body, including working more on core strength so he can better tolerate contact.
"We had a tendency before to do a lot of isolation style of basketball," Bynum said. "But when we're moving the ball, I think the high-low has been very effective. He's throwing me countless lobs. When he dunks on the weak side, I catch him on the high post and he's my first look ducking on the weakside. Defensively, it creates havoc for teams."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum embrace in the middle of the Lakers' celebration on the Staples Center court following an 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.