I'm surprised, but not exactly shocked.
In the wake of the flagrant foul 2, and the accompanying ejection, of Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter of Friday's game against Minnesota, speculation immediately began on a possible suspension. In my unscientific polling of other media types, the overwhelming consensus had Bynum sidelined for a game. Arguing against it was almost impossible, given the violence of the play on Michael Beasley as he attacked the basket from the right side of the floor. Bynum launched himself at the T-Wolves forward, leading with his elbow and forearm, delivering a dangerous shot against an airborne opponent.
The play was worthy of discipline from the league. Sunday, the NBA handed down its decision, and the verdict is harsh. Bynum will miss L.A.'s next two games.
The big debate isn't over the suspension itself, but whether the second game is warranted.
Bynum has history in this area: In 2009 he received a flagrant 2 against then-Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace, again leading with the elbow, hard enough to fracture Wallace's rib, collapse a lung, and send him to the hospital. Bynum wasn't suspended, but the NBA could have looked back on the play in handing down judgment here.
Comparing both, while the damage to Wallace was worse, the foul on Beasley was definitely more egregious.
What's tough is differentiating between Bynum's play Friday night and other potentially dangerous plays throughout the season earning only one-game suspensions. The process always feels arbitrary, and the NBA does little to make its decision making less opaque.
Two games feels excessive but not outrageous, and while it's fair to debate the league's logic and consistency, ultimately the responsibility belongs to Bynum for putting himself in a position to be judged by NBA disciplinarians. Particularly since the foul wasn't delivered in protection of a teammate or to make a statement about how dribble penetration won't be tolerated, but because Drew was ticked over non-calls at the other end. His frustration cost him, his teammates, and his wallet (Bynum loses about $275,000 in game checks).
The Lakers ought to get by, playing games against Portland tonight and Phoenix Tuesday, teams without strong interior play. They're accustomed to not having him in the lineup, but given Bynum's influence on the Lakers' defense since the break -- they've allowed an average of only 88.6 points in 12 games -- some drop off feels likely. Against the Blazers, the onus will be on Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to seal the glass defensive glass, since Portland is by percentage among the best offensive rebounding teams in the NBA. L.A.'s perimeter play will have to sharpen against both squads, as will their action on the pick and roll, since Bynum won't be there to erase mistakes.
If the Lakers win both games, this becomes a minor chapter in the '10-'11 season. Bynum learns a lesson, gets a little extra rest for his knees, and everything is hunky dory. If they lose one or both, Bynum's loss of cool could also cost the Lakers some playoff positioning.
Hopefully Bynum learns the lesson. In the meantime, his teammates need to pick him up, as he's picked up the Lakers over the last month.