Lee Andrew Bynum has now worn a Laker uniform for two weeks, and when he wasn't surrounded by microphones, TV cameras and autograph-seeking kids, he managed to give the Lakers and their fans a glimpse into the future.
It looked like a mixed bag.
Playing eight games in Long Beach's Summer Pro League, which concluded last week, the Lakers' 6-foot-11, 270-pound top draft choice showed flashes of glorious potential ... and all but disappeared during other spans.
"It's not any different from what I expected," Bynum said of his first taste of professional basketball. "I expected it to be tough and it's definitely tough."
And that, of course, was during a summer league that includes precious few players who will make NBA rosters next season.
The Lakers saw what they expected too. In taking Bynum 10th overall with their highest draft selection in 11 years, the team knew it was taking a calculated risk, choosing long-term potential over the temptation of taking a more polished player as a quick fix.
"I think it's gone as good as we can hope, keeping in mind that it's just a summer league," General Manager Mitch Kupchak said after Bynum was held to four points in the team's final game. "We don't want him really playing next year, or the year behind it. Certainly that's not in the plans."
But while downplaying their immediate expectations for a player still three months shy of his 18th birthday, the Lakers are more heavily invested than even the two-year, $3.8-million contract they recently gave to Bynum might imply.
Having become enamored with his 7-foot-6 wingspan, soft hands and shooting touch around the basket during private workouts, they took him at No. 10 this year because they figured they'd need a top-three pick to get a player like him in another year or two.
And so, if only in potential, he suddenly became heir apparent to such luminaries as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal at center of the NBA's most glamorous team -- one that missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1994.
Heady stuff for a kid from St. Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J., who wasn't even among the 16 players the NBA invited to sit in an area especially designated for them at the draft. When Bynum was chosen, he emerged from the general admission seats at New York City's Madison Square Garden, where he and his family were among thousands of others who paid $15 a ticket to watch the proceedings.
Indeed, Bynum, who likes to play chess and alien-invasion video games in his spare time, has his share of skeptics who question his talent as a basketball player. A few of them come from close to home.
Plainsboro, N.J., is a rural town of 21,000, with tree-lined streets and grassy lawns that give it a friendly Midwestern feel. Located halfway between Philadelphia and New York, it is home to a handful of professors from nearby Princeton University but is characterized more by its cornfields, pond fishing and sleepy summer nights.
Bynum, who has lived there from the age of 4, seems a product of the mix -- quiet and grounded, but sharp intellectually, with a quick wit that can belie his humble nature.
In his first dealings with the Los Angeles media, Bynum took a jab at O'Neal's well-chronicled free-throw woes and stated his intention of becoming an All-Star within the first two years of his career.
On the other, more modest hand, his mother, Janet McCoy, used to refer to him as "The Hermit" because he rarely left his bedroom, preferring to play Xbox and watch TV inside the sanctuary of teenage surroundings.
Bynum's mother and father divorced when he was 15 months old, with his mother remaining the larger part of his life. His father, Ernest, a cook who resides in North Carolina, has rarely been a presence, attending few events outside of his son's recent high school graduation.
A few years after the split with her husband, McCoy moved with her two sons from larger and more industrial Newark to Plainsboro, settling into a modest two-bedroom apartment where the boys shared a room with twin beds. As Bynum grew, the bed wasn't replaced -- an extension was added to the foot of it to accommodate him.
McCoy had two jobs, working full-time as a medical secretary at a Newark hospital and part-time in the evening a couple of days a week as a nurses' aid at a Trenton hospital. It wasn't rare to log 16-hour days when she worked both.
"It's been hard, but we got it done," McCoy said. "I had to work two jobs to get food on the table. You do it. I wanted them to be able to afford the different activities here, but you've got to pay."
McCoy's living room is something of a monument to her youngest son, who prefers to go by Andrew, his middle name. Basketball trophies line a shelf. Workout equipment takes up precious floor space. The Laker cap he wore while shaking NBA Commissioner David Stern's hand on draft day sits in a curio cabinet.