As I reported earlier today from practice, Andrew Bynum's participation with the starting five in New Orleans will not be a one-time affair. He'll be introduced with that lineup Friday against Philadelphia, and all things being equal and healthy, however many games the Lakers play in 2011. Coach Phil Jackson had been simultaneously anxious and hesitant to make the move, given the concern over Bynum's conditioning. But the bullet was finally bitten, and the results went well beyond PJ's expectations:
"It was going to take a little bit of a experimental stage, a 'getting to know you' stage again," Jackson said. "Fortunately, we came through it with flying colors. I thought it would be much more clumsy than it happened to be. So we're happy with that."
In the big picture, whether Bynum scored two points vs. 18 (as he did last night) is actually secondary to how well he felt this morning. His 30-plus minutes of work in The Big Easy were by far the most he has logged this season. Well, as he mentioned today, all systems remain a-go. No pain or swelling emerged. If anything, he actually felt better the longer he remained on the floor.
"I'm still a little bit limited as far as explosiveness, but other than that, I feel pretty good," Bynum said. "The longer you're out there on the floor, the more comfortable you're going to be and the more in shape you're gonna get. Everything just sorta works itself out."
As for Lamar Odom, a move back to bench elicited little more than a shrug. (Well, a shrug and 24 points against the Hornets, tied for the most off the bench for a Laker since Tierre Brown scored 27 in 2005. Bet you didn't expect to read that dude's name in this post.) Beyond expecting the switch at some point, it's just not in Odom's nature to complain, even during a season where a potential All-Star bid could be affected. He's not giving up on participating in the February fiesta, but if a move bettering the team means sacrificing a personal honor, so be it.
"Trying to make the All-Star team coming off the bench is something I'll work hard for," Odom said. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. If it does, then great. It's something to celebrate."
Not to get morbid, but when your life has included as much sadness as Odom's, the specific point when he enters a game feels like small potatoes. "I was talking to my cousin last night and he was laughing," Odom recalled. " 'Starting or not starting. If only they knew where we came from.' "
Not many people are unlucky enough to outlive both a parent and a child by age 26. Between these tragedies and escaping the trappings of inner-city New York, waiting a few extra minutes to his warmups won't throw him for a loop.
Interestingly, there's a common ground between this painful perspective and the mentality currently occupying Odom's professional life: the knowledge of what can be taken away. His elevated position on the NBA food chain is too rare to be wasted, so Lamar is determined not to let that happen. He talked about being exceptionally "sharp" these days, and when I asked if he felt this was the best season of his career, he talked instead about the season's value:
"At this point in my career, what we have riding, as far as the team's concerned and who I play for, it means the most. Playing to win a third consecutive championship. (I'm) 31. Playing for it all. Playing for the Lakers. It's the most important, so being sharp and being prepared probably means the most as a basketball player."
Pau Gasol is a starting lineup fixture either way, but Bynum back in the fold remains a plus for him. Beyond how sliding to his natural power forward position means less banging against bigger bodies, his actual skill set should flourish. As Gasol explained, running the offense is considerably easier from the four spot:
"It puts me in different spots to be more of a facilitator and help run the offense better. It gives me more versatility, too, as far as movement and attacking. So I'm looking forward to doing that again."
In lieu of a shootaround Wednesday, Jackson instead called a team meeting. Given the tension permeating of late (and this being December), one might expect a session resembling Festivus. Instead, it was about a group regrouping. The goal was to getting everyone back on the same page, and based on the evidence against New Orleans, the objective was met.
"We talked about some principles that we have as a basketball team and we need to get back to," Bynum said. "Just to attack the game on defense, to be defensively mindful. Stopping other teams. Trying to compound stops, because that's what's going to get your team going regardless of whether or not you're missing shots. If you're able to stop a team consecutively, three or four times, you'll get more opportunities on the offense and it's gonna be with higher energy."
Said Gasol: "Just going back to the basics. The principles of our defense, our offense. What we need to do in order for this system to work. (That's) basically what we talked about. Team unity is what it comes down to. When you have so many great pieces, so many great talents on one team, so many great individuals, you gotta get them to play together to be successful. Once you do that, the results are gonna come."
And finally, Matt Barnes shed some light on his late-game ejection against the Hornets. After a scrum with Jarrett Jack (ironically, with JJ called for a foul), Barnes got hit with a technical, then began shouting at another player. The second T followed, along with an early shower. Barnes didn't dispute the second violation being warranted, but remains uncertain why the first was assessed.