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Lakers' Andrew Bynum is front and center again

The young center looks forward to chance to prove what he can do when he's healthy for the Lakers, who won title without much of his help. Bynum sets goal of making All-Star team.

October 02, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers will be dominant this season, but the extent of their superiority hinges on their youngest player.

Maybe they will match the 65 regular-season victories they collected last season. Maybe they will give chase to the legendary 72-win season strung up by the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan in 1995-96. Either way, the Lakers will want more from center Andrew Bynum.

The franchise did pretty well for itself back in June, winning its 15th NBA championship without much help from him.

By his own admission, Bynum returned too quickly from a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee and averaged only 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 23 playoff games.

"I wasn't 100%. I had to get back, give us another body," Bynum said after the Lakers' practice Thursday. "I had to do my due diligence, help us out against Dwight" Howard, Orlando's All-Star center.

Instead, Bynum found himself in constant foul trouble and lacking the explosion he showed in January before Kobe Bryant crashed into his knee on an off-balance drive. Bynum missed 32 regular-season games and broke the 10-point barrier only five times in the playoffs.

He was notably quiet in the Western Conference semifinals against Houston, going scoreless in three games, two of them when center Yao Ming was sidelined because of a broken foot.

Bynum took time off after the season, traveling through Asia and Europe before reuniting with his personal trainer in Atlanta for several weeks' worth of an intensive lower-body workout regimen. He also worked on his outside touch and said he could now make shots from 17 feet.

Bynum, however, will have to make it through this season without two important parts of his support structure.

Former Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis was instrumental in Bynum's on-court development but is now the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Bynum will also reduce his time with special assistant coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a mentoring figure for the last four years who will be attending fewer games in a less-active role with the coaching staff.

"Kareem has been an instrumental part of Andrew's development and improvement over the years, but as Andrew is entering his fifth season, there's a lesser need for such intensive work together," Lakers spokesman John Black said. "Therefore, Kareem's workload will be generally lessened."

Still, Bynum, who turns 22 this month, has lofty aspirations. He wants to be an All-Star in his fifth NBA season.

"That's my goal," he said. "I know I have the talent to do it. I wasn't too far off last year if I didn't get hurt. I'm feeling 100% now. I'm in shape and super excited for the season to start up."

Basketball without borders

NBA coaches often find themselves in a tough situation when their players take part in international tournaments.

Players want to represent their country, but it comes at the expense of a restful off-season. More games obviously mean more chance of wear and tear.

Pau Gasol (broken finger) and Sasha Vujacic (sore knee) emerged with injuries after taking part in practices leading up to the European championships this summer. Gasol was with the Spanish national team, Vujacic with Slovenia. Both players are cleared to take part in the Lakers' training camp.

"We have always been reluctant about our players playing" internationally, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We know that it's a necessary part of the game. Some of these players are $100-million properties and they are going into a situation that only has diminishing returns.

"I think there is a lot of feelings among the coaches in the league that as much as players may improve their game, some of our players that are older and experienced, like Pau and Kobe . . . there's nothing to be gained from it except fame and the shoe contracts that go along with that type of stuff."

Quick hits

For a second consecutive year, Kobe Bryant had the top-selling jersey in Europe, according to the NBA. Kevin Garnett was second, Gasol third and LeBron James was fourth, based on sales at retail locations across Europe last season.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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