Ventura County Star: Andrew Bynum left the Lakers locker room Sunday and attempted to make a hasty exit.
"Andrew, Andrew," a small media contingent called. The 19-year-old turned around and unleashed a wide grin as he recognized familiar media faces.
Young enough to be a sophomore in college, the New Jersey native is showing his youthful exuberance, seemingly unaware of the huge expectations heaped on his broad shoulders. Restricted by the salary cap for the near future, the Lakers are seeking in-house improvement to return to being title contenders.
As Bynum begins his second go-around in the Summer Pro League at Long Beach State, the 7-foot-1 center looks like a player who, with more experience, can contribute.
"I'm not as nervous as I was," Bynum said. "The game seems slower with a year's experience."
The Lakers' original plan, designed to save cap space for a big-name free agent in 2008, ended when they reportedly agreed to sign sharpshooter Vladimir Radmanovic to a five-year-contract worth more than $30 million. His verbal agreement coincided with several NBA stars — LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade — agreeing to sign extensions with their current teams.
That makes Bynum's improvement, shown in new post moves and defensive skills, all the more important.
The Lakers hired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in September 2005 to teach post players Bynum, Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm. A season of work together complete, Bynum is showing he's still a work in progress. He's noticeably bigger, having become physically stronger. But he declined to say how much weight he's gained.
"I want to get in better shape (and) run up and down the court a lot easier," Bynum said of his goals this summer. "Just keep working on my offense as well."
Last season, Bynum showed mixed promise — 16 points, four rebounds against New York — and inexperience, playing in only 46 games and averaging 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
"When we first got him he was a project — he's still a project," said Kurt Rambis, coach of the Lakers summer league team. "We think he's going to be a very good ball player at some point in time and this is what he needs — time out there on the court."
Against Dallas on Sunday, Bynum attacked the boards, collecting three offensive rebounds on one possession with his big, soft hands. He struggled to pass out of double teams, missing a cutting Devin Green for a turnover. Other times, Los Angeles fed Bynum in the post and he drove to the basket for layups or fouls and free throws. In trying to keep him active, the Lakers had lined up opposite the ball and cut across the key to catch passes.
It appeared to work. His final stat line read 14 points and 15 rebounds — six offensive. Bynum's performance followed his 12-point, five-rebound, foul-plagued debut on Saturday afternoon.
"He's got the moves. He's got the height," Rambis said. "He's just got to be able to figure out how to do it when he's playing against defenses."
Bynum occasionally struggled to guard players without landing on the defender. He did defend Dallas Mavericks free agent Jelani McCoy when the former UCLA Bruin isolated himself, spun into the key and was cleanly blocked.
Already in a short time span, Bynum and rookie point guard Jordan Farmar have developed a rhythm.
"He's really athletic, which surprises a lot of people," Bynum said. "I don't know if you (media) all know, but (Farmar) jumps 32 inches. He showed that (Sunday) when he skied for a rebound over me."
Farmar had four assists Saturday and six Sunday, many going to Bynum.
"(Bynum) is such a big body," Farmar said. "He's really talented — got big hands. We're going to be just fine. We just have to get the kinks out (and) play together a little bit more."
Bynum grabbed even the most casual fans attention when he dunked on Shaquille O'Neal when the Lakers played Miami at Staples Center in January.
With more than a minute left in the second quarter, O'Neal threw home a rim-shaking slam over the then 18-year-old rookie. On the next possession, Bynum faked O'Neal on a spin move and dunked. An overjoyed Bynum bumped O'Neal on the other end and the ex-Lakers center responded with a forearm to Bynum's shoulder as both earned technical fouls.
"Andrew got right on it — he used some techniques I showed him. Shaq bit on the fake," said a laughing Abdul-Jabbar to the Associated Press in January. "He'll have that experience with him the rest of his career. He knows he can compete."
Said Bynum of that game: "It meant a lot. It's something that will stick with me. It was pretty exciting — I was able to make a big move on a very, very good center in the NBA. I kind of became an overnight celebrity."
When he drafted him, general manager Mitch Kupchak optimistically said Bynum, a 2005 first-round draft choice, potentially could be a great player in the post. The Lakers hope Bynum's second year in the Summer League will help him gain the experience he needs to help him make big strides in his second pro season.