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Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum have larger responsibilities

They've played significant roles for the Lakers in recent seasons, but for both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, their involvement in the 2011-12 campaign could prove even more crucial.

Gasol's eager to show his worth to the franchise that literally tried trading him in a deal two weeks ago that would've landed them Chris Paul. Bynum's eager to show his worth to a franchise that still may covet Dwight Howard.

And if their performances weren't scrutinized enough, well, Magic Johnson sure helped increase it.

"Those two guys have got to have banner years," Johnson said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. "We can't expect Kobe [Bryant] to carry the load the way he used to. Night in and night out, he can't [guard] the best player on the other team and then expect to go out and still get 25 to 30 points."

That's why the Lakers' success this season will largely hinge on the level and consistency at which Gasol and Bynum play. Of course, this could all become a moot point should the Lakers trade either of them. But even Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledged last week that they plan to keep Gasol and Bynum through the rest of the season, assuming that the much-rumored "big deals" fail to materialize. And the longer the front office goes without securing such a deal, the more likely Bynum and Gasol will remain with the Lakers.

Bryant, meanwhile, provided the recipe for both Gasol and Bynum to have banner years. 

"Andrew just has to be healthy," Bryant said. "When he's healthy, he does what he's supposed to do. Pau is an All-Star. Pau just does what he does and Andrew just needs to stay healthy."

Sounds simple enough. But they enter the season with a difficult draw.

In the Lakers' preseason loss Monday to the Clippers, Bynum hardly looked efficient, scoring a quiet 15 points on five of 11 shooting while acknowledging that he was feeling "heavily winded" six minutes into the game. Bynum will serve a five-game suspension to start the season because of his forearm shove on Dallas guard J.J. Barea in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. Despite all the heavy agility work this off-season, Bynum admits it'll take time to improve his conditioning. 

"It's going to be a bit slow to start the season," Bynum said. "That's what it's going to be."

Gasol looked motivated in loss to the Clippers, dropping an efficient 16 points. But he'll have to assume heavier minutes with Odom's absence and the uncertainty surrounding to what degree both Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy can help the Lakers' frontcourt depth. Gasol faced a somewhat similar situation last season when he carried Bynum's load while the center missed the first 24 games recovering from off-season surgery. 

"That's going to take a little more time to know their role and be able to contribute more," Gasol said. "We're not trying to replace Lamar. He's very unique and hard to find."

But in a way, both Gasol and Bynum will replace Odom. Lakers Coach Mike Brown centers his offense around them receiving looks inside through pick-and-rolls, an approach the Lakers clearly struggled in executing. And for better or worse, the season largely hinges on how well they grasp those new concepts.

 "It's definitely very important that Andrew and myself are consistent," Gasol said. "We have to be productive pretty much every game for us to be consistently successful."

RELATED:

Magic Johnson says Kobe, Gasol, Bynum need to step up

Pau Gasol says nothing to Chris Paul

Six things to take away from Lakers' 114-95 loss to Clippers

— Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

 
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