While his teammates and fans alike were beyond excited for the return of Pau Gasol in Friday night's game against the Clippers at Staples, there were concerns it might mean midnight for Andrew Bynum, turning him back into a 7'1" pumpkin, so to speak. After all, he'd gone through a well-documented December slide following Gasol's first re-entry into the lineup, after the big Spaniard missed the season's first 11 games with a bad right hammy.
For one night at least, the fears were unfounded. The Lakers decimated the Clips, winning by 40 and getting solid contributions from both Gasol (20/6/3 with three blocks) and Bynum (20/7/2 and a pair of swats), each playing about 30 minutes on the night.
After it was over, Gasol deflected concerns he and Bynum don't have and can't grow greater chemistry on the court. "We have great chemistry. I want him to be as aggressive as he has been in the last couple games that I've been out, and as aggressive as he was tonight," Gasol said. "When he's aggressive and gets into the lane, he's a tough cover and very productive. So I want him to stay aggressive, and not be passive just because I also get some looks in the post, and I'm also effective. We both have to be effective, we both have to be aggressive."
"Just play the way you've been playing when I'm not out there," he continued. "It's not a major, major change, I don't think. He'll still play his 30, 35 minutes. He should be productive."
No argument here. What's interesting, though, about the debate over Bynum is how it reflects the same all-or-nothing attitude surrounding the season as a whole. Rightly, anything less than a title this year for the Lakers will be seen as a disappointment. But while that construct might work for the group, it's less applicable for the players who comprise it. In-game performance on an individual basis can be filled with shades of gray, yet there's often not much nuance in analysis. Guys are awesome or they're horrible.
In Bynum's case, for some observers it turns a bad December into a stone-cold reality that can never be altered. He's proven he can't play with Gasol. A double-double machine when he's the focus in the post, Bynum inevitably fades on both ends -- particularly defensively -- when he has to share touches. So has it always been, so will it always be.
Might as well pull the plug while he can still draw something good (Chris Bosh?) in return.
I'm not trying to defend the way Bynum played through last month before Pau was hurt a second time. I've been plenty critical, noting both on the blog and on the radio how he needs to get more mature and learn to find motivation and drive that isn't predicated on heavy touches, and the patience to make good decisions with the ball (i.e. avoid the "black hole" syndrome). Nor am I saying a Bynum-for-Bosh swap isn't worth considering if it could actually happen (which I don't thin it could). Bosh is too talented not to give it some thought.
What I won't do, though, is take that month and determine the combo can't work, whether for this season or the next half-decade. Seems a little myopic.
The skill sets are there. Gasol is comfortable working out the high and low post, and Bynum's game is stretching away from the bucket as well. They're both mobile, they both have soft hands. Together, they create a profound and unconventional matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Some squads can guard one, few can take both. Nor is it true the two have never played well on the same floor. Take a look at last season's logs. Bynum played plenty of quality games while in the starting lineup with Gasol.
It can work. It did last night. Other nights it won't, or not as well. But if Bynum develops that maturity and the Lakers continue to make a concerted effort to feed their bigs, particularly early, the Lakers will get the results they're looking for. And big picture, even with an imperfect on-court relationship between Bynum and Gasol, the Lakers have still been extraordinarily successful.
The team can thrive while individual components struggle, meaning it's important to keep a sense of perspective. It took a lot of patience to assemble this Lakers team. Patience should be exercised before deciding a fundamental change in character is in order.