Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Andrew Bynum: The Next Benoit Benjamin?

As the Lakers contemplate whether or not to give young, recently injured Andrew Bynum a max contract, I�m reminded of another talented center with limitless potential and a questionable work ethic- Benoit Benjamin.

In case you don�t remember Benoit, he was a lottery pick of the Clippers in �85. His first few years in the league, he showed steady progress and appeared to be on the verge of stardom in �88 when he averaged over 16 points, almost 9 boards and over 3 blocks a game.

Then he got a big contract.

The rest of Benjamin�s 15-year career was respectable but hardly noteworthy. Particularly annoying to fans and management alike was Benoit�s complete lack of focus. His legacy was bringing two left sneakers to an exhibition game.

Numerous times in his first three seasons, Andrew Bynum�s attitude has been questioned by not only Kobe Bryant (the parking lot rant) but also by Hall Of Fame mentor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Phil Jackson repeatedly called him out for being lazy and slow to learn defensive rotations.

In fact, until this year, Bynum didn�t impress anyone except Jim Buss, the man responsible for drafting him against the better wishes of just about everyone else in the organization.

Then early last season, the kid had his big breakout. With Chris Mihm injured, Bynum stepped into the starting role and played like he belonged there, averaging a double-double and blocking shots at a league-leading pace. With each impressive performance, the critics grew quieter. Kobe stopped pining for Jason Kidd. Phil seemed genuinely surprised and delighted at this unexpected good fortune. Great nicknames like 'Mandrew' and 'Bynumite' started popping up all over the place. People started comparing him to Shaq, for fuck's sake.

As you know, the story doesn't end well. Bynum hurt his knee and missed the entire second half of the season plus the playoffs. In the aftermath of the Lakers/Celtics debacle, many wondered whether his presence alone would have altered the outcome. Wow. Think about that for a sec. Thirty games of solid basketball and suddenly Andrew Bynum's absence is the reason LA lost the title.

Pretty good time to negotiate a new contract, right?

Laker fans think Bynum deserves a max deal now, even though his rookie deal's good through the end of the year. They want to lock him up to keep him from leaving as a free agent in '09.

But what's Bynum proven, really? He hasn't been an All-Star or a Finals MVP. And he's coming off a knee injury. Why not wait until the kid shows he can do it for a full season before breaking the bank?

Remember Benoit Benjamin? I do. I remember a talented big man who stopped caring the second he got paid.

Note: Compare third year numbers between Bynum and Benjamin.

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