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Verdict's still out on whether Andrew Bynum has learned his lesson on avoiding cheap shots

May 10, 2011 |  8:54 pm

As the opponent drove into the lane, Lakers center Andrew Bynum stepped in on help defense, extended his right forearm and sent the player to the ground. As the opponent drove the baseline, Bynum stepped in on help defense, extended his right forearm and sent the player to the ground. And as the opponent drove toward the basket, Bynum stepped in on help defense, extended his right forearm and sent the player to the ground.

The above paragraph reads remarkably similar, appears to be written by accident two extra times and makes it hard to gauge whether the sentence describes three separate incidents, two or even just one. That's the problem behind Bynum's apology -- made during his exit interview Tuesday -- for throwing a forearm at Dallas guard J.J. Barea in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 122-86 playoff-eliminating Game 4 loss to the Mavericks, an action that earned him a five-game suspension and a $25,000 fine for taking off his jersey. Similar incidents have already happened two different times. Bynum's hit on Gerald Wallace two years ago sent Wallace to the hospital. Bynum's hit on Minnesota's Michael Beasley two months ago earned the Lakers center a flagrant-foul type 2 and a two-game suspension. And Bynum's hit on Barea earned scorn from Laker greats Jerry West, Magic Johnson and James Worthy as well as criticism from Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

Forget for a moment whether the criticism from the Lakers greats reeked of hypocrisy, considering they were involved in dirty plays during an era that was more lenient on physical play. Forget debating for a moment whether Bynum's five-game suspension, which will cost him $677,272 in salary next season, is too lenient or too harsh. And forget for a moment whether his 48-hour-overdue apology was sincere. The most important question remains whether he will repeat the episode.

"It won't happen," Bynum insisted. "That's it. It won't happen again."

But it's not that simple. If it required Bynum to watch the replay of the episode, which he later acknowledged was "embarrassing," before realizing his wrong, how on Earth is he going to avoid repeating the same mistake? By no means is Bynum an enforcer. In fact, there have been plenty of times this season when the Lakers' coaching staff wished he played with a more physical presence. But the incidents previously mentioned provide snapshots of Bynum losing his composure.

"I don't think anything was going through my mind, actually, which is why it all happened," Bynum said. "You can't let your body control you. I have to be in control at all times, and I wasn't."

That's exactly why we might see this again, and I'm just talking about the foul on Barea that will replay over and over during a long Lakers' offseason and perhaps a prolonged lockout. Bynum may have engaged in several mind-control exercises this season -- such as meditating, consulting sports psychologist George Mumford and reading the "The New Psycho-Cybernetics," which stresses positive thinking and details how to achieve goals faster with more efficiency -- but he has only achieved his goals on practical levels, such as avoiding further injury, posting 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in the postseason and assuming a larger defensive role. The mental exercises haven't correlated to avoiding a cheap shot when he gets frustrated. 

The team is partly to blame. The Lakers didn't even address Bynum about his flagrant-foul type 2 against Beasley, and Bryant even went so far as to say Bynum "earned his stripes." Bynum also revealed that the subject of his ejection against Dallas wasn't brought up in his exit interview, other than that it was stated that he would deliver a public apology. But the problem mostly is Bynum's negative reaction in frustrating moments, with a missed foul call prompting him to strike Beasley and the team's failure to rotate properly on defense prompting him to nearly deal Barea a serious injury, sequences that aren't helping his league reputation one bit.

"I don't pay much attention to what other people say about me," Bynum said. "All I can say is what I speak on how I feel. I go out and score 50 the next day, the national media will be different. That doesn't bother me."

But the issue goes beyond public relations, though Fisher applauded Bynum's apology. It goes beyond just bouncing back from a bad performance. And it goes beyond clearing up a guilty conscience. Opposing players -- ones that aren't 5-foot-2 -- will surely test whether his physical play is legit. Officials and the league will keep a closer eye on Bynum's actions, with more scrutinized calls and heavier fines/suspensions likely to come. And there will be plenty of other moments that will test his emotions. 

"It looks bad," Bynum said. "It just looks bad."

Assuming Bynum's pledge to avoid further dirty plays won't pan out, it could look even worse.

-- Mark Medina

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