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BILL PLASCHKE

Lakers need to harness Andrew Bynum

The talented center has the potential to be leader for the Lakers if the team can stop him from acting like a spoiled child.

April 04, 2012|Bill Plaschke

The Los Angeles Bynums took the floor Wednesday night with a twisted fury.

Their namesake's injured ankle was intact. So, too, was his attitude.

Andrew Bynum was daring and dominant during his team's reclaiming of the city, scoring 36 points to lead a roaring, resounding 113-108 victory over the Clippers at Staples Center

But as with every piece of Bynum greatness, there is always a prickly Bynum question. What is the cost of catering to this greatness, and when are the Lakers going to have to pay it?

Mirroring his off-court hijinks, Bynum showed the trademark cracks that will make it tough for his team to ride him through the battle for the NBA.

One minute he would be hustling to the perimeter to block a jump shot by Chris Paul, or hustling to swat a Paul layup. The next minute, he would be standing motionless while DeAndre Jordan soared past him for an offensive rebound jam.

Bynum led a fastbreak, nailed a reverse hook under the basket, connected on a fadeway bank. But he also missed a dunk and hung on the rim while his short-handed teammates scrambled back on defense amid a chorus of boos.

Nothing screamed his paradox more than his unguarded dunk in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a five-point lead. He was unguarded because he didn't run down the court on defense during an aborted Clippers fastbreak.

And, oh yeah, despite their giant size advantage, the Lakers were outrebounded by the Clippers by two, and Bynum grabbing just as many offensive rebounds, three, as teammates Josh McRoberts and Metta World Peace.

Yet, don't look for even a hint of this negative stuff about Bynum to come out of the Lakers' locker room. The team has resigned itself to doing very little to control its big man, which is how the Lakers have become the Bynums.

In recent weeks, the 24-year-old has behaved like an entitled child with little regard for authority and no sense of team, yet he is never held publicly accountable. No matter what he has done, he has not been punished beyond a fine that was apparently so meaningless to his $14.9-million salary, Bynum initially claimed he didn't even know he had been dinged.

When he finally addressed the fine after Wednesday's game, he said, "I don't think it was warranted, I don't think you get benched for that, it is what it is."

What it is has become distressingly clear. The Lakers have apparently decided that while it can be occasionally embarrassing to live with Bynum, they cannot risk living without his career-high 17.9 points and 11.9 rebounds average.

Even though sometimes he acts as if he just doesn't care what the Lakers do.

He was ejected after committing his second technical foul in the third quarter in Houston, a move that eventually turned a Lakers lead into a loss, yet he slapped high-fives with fans on the way off the court.

He was benched for shooting a three-pointer against Golden State, yet later said Coach Mike Brown couldn't stop him from doing what he wanted.

"I guess don't take threes is the message," he said. "But I'm going to take some more."

He was recently spotted sitting outside the huddle during some timeouts, yet he was unrepentant.

"I don't take part in the huddle," he said. "I'm resting … getting my Zen on."

How about that loss in Washington, where he admitted he wasn't trying?

"I was out there kind of loafing and having a good time," he said at the time.

Instead of being reprimanded for not playing hard, however, many around the team applauded him for his honesty.

"I'm not concerned with Bynum's attitude," Brown said recently. "I don't have a problem with Andrew Bynum."

At least not until Bynum's lack of respect eventually fuels the train that will carry Brown out of town. Before that, it could infect the locker room and derail the Lakers' playoff hopes.

Bynum was once again acting odd before Wednesday's game, when he was surrounded by reporters who wondered if he would return to action after sitting out a game because of a sprained left ankle.

"I don't know," he said, fair enough.

Asked to elaborate on how he felt, he decided to stop talking.

"I don't talk before games," he said, and at that point he appeared to completely space out, refusing to even acknowledge longtime acquaintances gathered around him.

At some point, one would hope that Kobe Bryant would jump in his face and tell him to grow up. That point hasn't happened yet. It is something Derek Fisher would have done by now, but these days that would require a long-distance phone call.

I was recently chatting about Bynum with an NBA executive who could only shake his head.

"The question you must ask is, who watered that weed?" the official said.

The Lakers did. And now one can only hope they don't choke on it.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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