Lakers assistant coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, right, works with Andrew… (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)
The NBA's all-time leading scorer has been hard to track down.
"How'd you find him?" said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's inquisitive publicist inside a Manhattan Beach shoe store.
The former Lakers center has been incredibly busy. He's made promotional stops for his "On the Shoulders of Giants" documentary, appeared in a TV commercial as a spokesman for Skechers Shape-ups and, of great importance, stayed in remission for a rare form of leukemia, allowing him to crisscross the country in recent months.
Despite it all, he's noticed a startling development: Andrew Bynum has come of age.
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Abdul-Jabbar became the special assistant coach in charge of mentoring Bynum when the Lakers drafted a gangly 17-year-old kid in 2005.
"I've been waiting for him to do just what he's been doing," Abdul-Jabbar said Thursday. "I watched the San Antonio game and it seemed to me at that point he had it figured out, how to help this team. When he plays like that, all over the boards and blocking shots and changing shots, it makes it very easy for this team to win."
Abdul-Jabbar stepped back from his Lakers coaching duties in November 2009 when he was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that produces cancerous blood cells.
He used to consult with Bynum at home games and practices, sometimes going to Bynum's home for extra video study and discussions about basketball history. Now it's easy to sense the feeling of pride from the player who scored 38,387 career points.
"He changes the game," Abdul-Jabbar said. "When the other team can't get easy shots around the basket, or second shots, that's a negative for them. And when he's getting our team second shots with offensive rebounds, that's a positive for us.
"'Drew can get it done on the court now. He just has to be consistent. If he's consistent doing the things he's been doing recently, I definitely see the Lakers playing for the championship."
It's hard to miss the ascension of Bynum, or even the 7-footer himself, but he did a good job of avoiding reporters since committing a flagrant foul last Friday on Minnesota forward Michael Beasley.
He's back with the Lakers for their game Friday against the Clippers. And he was ready to talk about his two-game suspension.
"I didn't think what I did was deserving of it," he said. "I don't think I really did anything too wrong. It was unfortunate that the guy fell the way he did and got hurt. But at the end of the day, sometimes fouls happen."
Bynum was hit with the two-game penalty after his right forearm sent Beasley sprawling to the court. Beasley left the game after taking two free-throw attempts.
Bynum sent Beasley an apology via text message the following day and received a brief response.
"I think he just said it was a 'playoff foul,' " Bynum said. "That's it."
The Lakers beat Minnesota after Bynum was ejected and managed to win the following two games without him, though nothing was simple: an 84-80 decision over Portland and a triple-overtime 139-137 victory over Phoenix.
"It was crazy to witness that game ... unbelievable," Bynum said.
The Lakers spun his absence as a way for him to stay off a surgically repaired right knee that experienced recent swelling.
"My knee's feeling all right," Bynum said. "I'm ready to go."
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The Lakers don't expect a problem in assimilating him into the starting lineup. Neither do they foresee a stamina drop-off after his time away from the court.
"A couple days?" Kobe Bryant said. "Nah, he's still 12 years old. He's fine."
Bynum, 23, averaged 13 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots in 10 games before the suspension. He was missed, no?
"Ya think?" Bryant said. "He's playing extremely well. I think our second unit has suffered a little bit because Lamar [Odom] hasn't been able to be in there with them."
Odom will go back to reserve status with Bynum's return to the starting five.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have gone 45-14 against the Clippers since Bryant's rookie year, but their 2-1 record against them this season could have easily been flipped if not for Derek Fisher's buzzer-beating layup in December.
"The difference is now they have actual talent," Bryant said. "They have guys that can actually play and do what they do against us on a consistent basis."
Bryant has always been a fan of Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said Wednesday he seriously considered taking the Lakers' coaching job in 2004. "He's funny," Bryant said of the man who was his coach on the 2008 Olympics U.S. team. "He has a great sense of humor, which … gets lost amongst the sideline. There would have been a lot of sad people down in Duke." … Pau Gasol will donate $1,000 for every point he scores Friday toward a Japan recovery fund set up by Direct Relief International.