Archives For June 2010

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Below is a collection of summaries of the end of the season Exit Interviews from the Lakers players and executives. Mike Trudell of Basket Blog put all of these summaries together over at Lakers.com. I had a few more links I would have liked to share, but I’m currently traveling through a mountain range and I’m not sure if my internet connection will hold up long enough for me to post them all. Also, I couldn’t find an Exit Interview from Josh Powell. I’ll get that to you guys as soon as one surfaces. Enjoy.

Phil Jackson: Nearly a week after Phil Jackson won his record 11th NBA coaching championship, he revealed that Game 7 against Boston may have been his last as coach of the Lakers.“I’m leaning towards retiring but I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said. In his season-ending interview with the press after completing all but one of the organization’s exit interviews with players, Jackson said that he’d make a final decision by the end of next week.

Mitch Kupchak: Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak put together quite a team in Los Angeles, as witnessed by three straight trips to the NBA Finals, two straight championships and a core group in place to contend into the near future. He shared his thoughts about the 2009-10 season, Phil Jackson, some of the team’s players and more with the media:- (On the season): “Suffice to say we had a story book ending to a season that started out very promising. It was a wonderful run during the playoffs. I think the Oklahoma City series, to a degree, woke up a team that wasn’t ready to play their best basketball. I thought our team responded and played our best basketball going forward.”

Kobe Bryant: It wasn’t a bad 2009-10 for Kobe Bryant, who capped another All-Star and All-NBA First Team (not to mention All Defensive First Team) campaign with his second Finals MVP award and fifth championship. Bryant averaged 27 points, 5.4, 5.0 assists and 1.55 steals in the regular season, and 29.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.35 steals in the postseason. Below is a summary of his exit interview comments: – Some World Cup banter to open: “I missed the (Landon Donovan of Team USA) goal in the 90th minute because I was coming down here. But I watched it.”

Derek Fisher: For the fifth straight season and seventh time in eight years, Derek Fisher played in all 82 regular season games, then went on to play his best basketball of 2009-10 in the playoffs. Fisher nailed a dagger three-pointer to beat Utah in Game 3 of Round 2, scored 11 huge points to carry L.A. to a Game 3 win in Boston and hit a game-tying three late in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s Finals-clinching Game 7 victory. Fisher averaged 7.5 points on 38 percent shooting with 2.5 assists in 27.2 regular season minutes per game, and went up to 10.3 points on 44.8 percent from the field with 2.8 assists in 32.8 postseason minutes.

Pau Gasol: Pau Gasol had a fantastic 2009-10 season for the Lakers, emerging into perhaps the NBA’s best all-around big man while helping Kobe Bryant lead L.A. to its third straight Finals appearance and second straight championship. The Spaniard, who again made the All-Star team and was named to the All-NBA Third Team despite missing 17 games with two different hamstring strains, averaged 18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.74 blocks on 53.6 percent shooting in the regular season and 19.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.09 blocks on 53.9 percent shooting in the playoffs.

Andrew Bynum: Perhaps no Lakers player matured more during the 2009-10 campaign than Andrew Bynum, who battled through a painful right knee injury throughout the playoffs while giving the Lakers the paint presence they needed at both ends. Bynum averaged 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.45 blocks on 57 percent shooting in 30 minutes per game in a mostly-healthy regular season (he played 65 games and suffered a strained Achilles injury), then contributed 8.6 points and 6.9 rebounds with 1.57 blocks in 24 minutes per playoff game.

Ron Artest: Ron Artest saved his best games for when L.A. needed them most in the 2010 playoffs, putting up 20-5-5 while limiting Paul Pierce in the clinching Game 7 of the Finals, scoring 25 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and tipping in the game winner of Game 5 against Phoenix, not to mention defending the opponent’s best offensive threat throughout. He averaged 11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals in the regular season, and 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals in a postseason in which his primary responsibility was on D.

Lamar Odom: Lakers forward Lamar Odom averaged 10.8 points and 9.8 rebounds with 3.3 assists in the regular season, and 9.7 points with 8.6 boards and 2.0 assists in the postseason en route to his second straight championship. Odom’s defense was strong throughout the season, particularly late in games, capped by a terrific effort in L.A.’s championship-clinching Game 7, part of the reason he said he was so tired that he could fall asleep in his chair while doing the interview.

Luke Walton: While winning the team championship of course made the 2010 campaign an ultimate success for every Lakers player, Luke Walton’s season was a difficult one from a personal standpoint as he was limited to only 27 regular season games and limited action in 16 playoff games due to his back injury. Walton managed only 9.4 minutes in the regular season games in which he did appear, averaging 2.4 points and 1.4 assists, and is primarily focused upon getting his back right for the 2010-2011 campaign.

Jordan Farmar: Jordan Farmar posted averages of 7.2 points and 1.5 assists while leading the Lakers in three-point shooting (37.6 percent) in 18 minutes per game, and offered 4.6 points and 1.4 assists in 13 playoff minutes. Farmar’s exit interview, however, dealt mostly with the fact that he’s a restricted free agent and will have the opportunity to sign a contract with any NBA team on July 1. Since he is restricted, the Lakers could match any offer he receives if they so choose.

Sasha Vujacic: Sasha Vujacic battled various minor injuries throughout the 2009-10 season and struggled to get into a rhythm, playing only 8.6 minutes per game in the regular season to average 2.8 points and 1.2 rebounds. He missed the first two rounds of the playoffs after suffering a severely sprained ankle in L.A.’s regular season finale, but had his best game of the playoffs in Game 6 of the Finals, scoring nine points in 14 minutes off the bench.

Shannon Brown: Shannon Brown averaged 7.6 minutes in the 2008-09 regular season after getting traded to L.A. in February, then 13 minutes during the 2009 playoffs before jumping up to 20.7 minutes in the 2009-10 regular season, averaging 8.1 points and 2.2 rebounds. In the playoffs, his minutes dipped back to around 14 per contest as Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest played the vast majority of the time, and Brown averaged 4.9 points off the bench. Brown has the option of opting out of a two-year contract he signed prior to the 2009-10 campaign.

D.J. Mbenga: DJ Mbenga appeared in 49 regular season games, starting two, and three playoff games, offering relief duty particularly during the points of 2009-10 in which Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol missed time with respective injuries. In 355 total regular season minutes (7.2 per game), Mbenga blocked 29 shots (.59 per game), adding 2.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.

Adam Morrison: Adam Morrison saw action in only 31 regular season and two playoff games, scoring a total of 82 points. Acquired along with Shannon Brown in February of 2009, Morrison won two rings with the Lakers, but was never able to garner significant playing time heading into free agency. Below is a summary of his exit interview: – (On his experience with the team): “It was cool. It was tough not playing as much, at all really, but being a part of the team was fun. Being with the group of guys we had was cool.”

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UPDATE: I’ve also got a few extra links that I’d like to share.  -Darius

*At this point in his career, we’re all pretty familiar with the lengths Kobe will go to in order to prepare for an opponent.  In the 2009 playoffs, there were stories of Kobe calling on legendary trainer Tim Grover to travel with him on the road to ensure that his peak physical condition could be maintained through the victory over the Magic.  Well, this season Kobe called on one of Grover’s partners (who just so happened to be a former Celtic employee) to get him the advanced scouting information that helped him prepare for the rigors of facing the Celtic’s defense.

*We often hear about all the work the players do to improve their game or to prepare to play (like the previous story on Kobe).  And as fans, we all appreciate that work because of how it leads to the wins that we celebrate.  But players can inspire off the court as well.  Check out this feel good and inspirational story between a young child and Pau Gasol that was passed on to me by the fine folks at drawthedog.com. 

*Lastly, today is a day where all Lakers’ fans are concerned about what the future of Phil Jackson will be.  There are plenty of great pieces out there, but check out Kevin Ding’s take on why he thinks Phil is actually riding off into the sunset, Dave McMenamin’s summary of yesterday’s interview with the press corps, and Lee Jenkin’s excellent piece on what the questionable future of Phil means for the future of the Lakers team.

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Growing up, I always remember my grandfather would make a point of trying to make a “life lesson” out of every little situation. He would sit back in his easy chair, flip the remote to whatever featured game was on TNT that night and share his words of wisdom about life and basketball. While I was eagerly anticipating the next great dunk by Kobe, he would labor on and on about the war and character, among other topics I tried to ignore at the time. Despite my best efforts, I realized years down the road that I actually absorbed a good amount of what he said.

In many ways, I think Phil Jackson has spent the better part of the past decade serving as the grandfather of the Lakers family. His unique vision has guided the Forum Blue and Gold through murky waters and heavenly heights. At the beginning of the decade, Jackson transformed an upstart, but immature Shaquille O’Neal-led squad into three-time champions. In 2003-‘04, he provided the glue that kept the team together when Bryant was flying back and forth between L.A. and Colorado courtrooms. After returning to his usual perch after a one-season hiatus, Jackson planted the seeds of success on a rag-tag team whose nightly outcome depended on Kobe’s heroics. Most recently, he was the commander in chief behind another back-to-back championship Lakers team. As of Wednesday, June 23, he is arguably one of the biggest free agents on the market this summer. With a decision on his future likely looming in the next few days, let’s take a step back and look at 11 lessons (in honor of the Hall of Fame coach’s record-setting number of NBA titles) that fans and players have accrued over the years.

1. Composure starts at the top. Through all of the volatility during Jackson’s Lakers tenure, his calming influence has served as the one constant that has helped steady the team amidst incredible turmoil. His now legendary decorum extends beyond off-court tension and dramatic losses; Phil also knows how to keep his team focused coming off a monumental victory too, as evidence by his teams’ remarkable winning percentage in closeout games. Over the course of an 82-game season and grueling two-plus months of playoff basketball, it makes all the difference.

2. Never underestimate the value of communication. Phil reminds me of a college professor with an “open door” policy; he has always made himself available to players and the media in a manner that few NBA coaches, past or present, have been able to match. Jackson refuses to coddle his players and is particularly selective when doling out praise. He also has no qualms with being direct with his players and letting them know exactly what he expects of them. There is a reason why so many players attribute Phil with their on-court improvement as he sets the bar higher than anyone else does.

3. Sharing is for grown-ups too. The very foundation of the triangle offense is built on passing, which is why Jackson has consistently made a point out of sharing the ball, dating back to his days as coach of the Bulls. It is a difficult mantra for players to buy into, especially superstars like Bryant and Michael Jordan, but once the sale is made, the results are incomparable.

4. Check your ego at the door. Jackson has had the good fortune of coaching some of the greatest players of all-time. While that unprecedented level of talent has led him to 11 NBA championships, it has also bred overconfidence from players at times. Phil never lets those egos get in the way of the team’s mission though; he is not afraid to knock a player off a pedestal when necessary. If Kobe has a 9-33 shooting night in a 22-point Lakers loss, Jackson will make sure his discontent is verbalized. Despite any in the moment anger, his players respect him as a result.

5. Quickly put out fires. I am not sure that there is another coach in NBA history – in all of sports for that matter — who has had to deal with more internal conflict than Jackson. It is perhaps this point more than any other that separates him from the pantheon of the league’s coaching elite. From MJ’s notorious stubborn streak, the Shaq vs. Kobe saga and the recent Ron Artest Twittergate, Phil has proven adept at diffusing fires and managing overpowering personalities.

6. Sometimes, you just need a pat on the back. As I mentioned before, Jackson’s definition of nurture does not exactly involve hugs and spoon-feeding. Instead, the coach adopts a more even keel approach that gently pushes players along without allowing them to become too excited or feel too down after a particular performance. Andrew Bynum, a player with whom Jackson has continually prodded seemingly since the day he was drafted, is the best example of this. Aside from the occasional gripe about playing time, Bynum has become one of the coach’s most outspoken champions.

7. Surround yourself with good people. Jackson happily relinquishes the role of dictator when it comes to coaching, instead employing a more communal style that involves an entire coaching staff or in his terms, a council of elders. Those who have watched a Lakers practice know that Phil’s voice is far from the only one heard. By spreading the love, Phil ensures that each of his players receives an equal amount of attention.

8. Let your freak flag fly. Meditation and carefully selected literature are not the only things that make the Zen Master one of the quirkiest characters the league has ever seen. Players and fans may scoff at his often-bizarre tactics, but with 11 championships, no one is complaining.

9. Mind games are not always for crazy people. Jackson knows exactly when and how to rattle his opponents. If you don’t believe me, just ask the trail of star players that the Lakers have left in their dust over the years. From rattling the Kings at the beginning of the decade to his public statements about Kevin Durant’s disproportionate number of foul shots, Phil is a true master of manipulation.

10. Keep your stars aligned. No matter what anyone says, it takes a special coach to lead a star-filled team in the entertainment capital of the world. Shaq, Kobe, Gasol, Malone and Payton are just a few if the Hall of Fame-worthy Lakers players with whom Jackson has molded. Part of keeping your stars aligned also involves the role of supporting characters like Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom — something with which Phil has an intimate understanding. This delicate balancing act has resulted in five NBA titles in L.A. and potentially more on the horizon should he choose to return.

11. Expect the best. Jackson’s ear-splitting, manufactured whistle is often heard all the way up in the rafters at STAPLES Center, but overall, he is not a yeller in the same vein as a Pat Riley type of coach. Nevertheless, Jackson expects greatness from his teams, with anything else serving as a huge disappointment. His level of confidence and championship mentality permeates all areas of the team. Simply put, players who are coached by Phil wind up as better people both on and off the court.

Truth be told, it is virtually impossible to boil Jackson’s lessons down to the 11 we have highlighted. I suspect his value to the NBA is something that will only be fully celebrated after he eventually hangs up his dream catcher once and for all. Just like the day John Wooden left the game of basketball, this league will never be the same again. If last Thursday’s thrilling Game 7 victory was indeed the last cigar Phil will ever smoke, it has been a fantastic ride, filled with lessons Lakers fans and players will never forget.

Yesterday I was able to make the trek from Bakersfield to Los Angeles for the parade. I brought my D5000 and picked up my sister along the way and set out to celebrate with the 2010 NBA World Champion Lakers. Unfortunately, unlike past years, the parade didn’t end with a rally, but we had a good time nonetheless. As far as the number of people who attended, the latest estimation I heard was about 1 million people. Without further adu, here’s a photo essay of my time at the parade.

 

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We decided to head to the Staples Center first and work our way down Figueroa to get to the Convention Center, the area where we watched the parade from.

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Home, sweet home — and A LOT of cops.

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My sister couldn’t resist posing with one of the little characters from “Dispicable Me”.

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We got our fair share of buzzing at the parade. It wasn’t on the World Cup level, but the vuvuzelas were going strong for the Champs.

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The nerve… We don’t even see the green during the parade.

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Again, there were A LOT of cops.

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Full force.

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The sea of Forum Blue and Gold was amazing to see.

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There were definitely some characters at the parade. This guy was hilarious.

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The creativity of Lakers fans.

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Kobe-dog

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Best seats at the parade.

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This is NOT Pau Gasol.

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The media was going to need a pencil bigger than this one to write off the Lakers this year.

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These guys were the loudest non-vuvuzela blowing fans I heard at the parade.

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Just saw the Good Year blimp, and it read Ice Cube’s a… err.. Lakers are champs.

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It was crazy packed.

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I was lucky to get this spot. Head above the others.

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It’s unbelievable how united a city can become because of a sports team.

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I loved this. Finger wrapped and all.

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The ubiquitous Lakers girls.

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Kobe greeting the people. You wouldn’t believe how happy he looked on that float.

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How many rings do you have now, Kobe? Five? Damn, that’s a grip.

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I was trying to figure out if it was Sasha or Ron who brought Delonte West.

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Magic was jubilant as always.

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A.C. Green… and some women.

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Kareem was the exact opposite of Kobe. Looked like he was brainstorming ideas for his next book: 1,000,001 Things To Do Instead Of Being In a Parade

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And there it is, Congrats to the Lakers who brought home the title for the 16th time.

Talkin’ Finances

Zephid —  June 22, 2010

I have to confess something: I’ve been on such a high since the Lakers won that epic Game 7 last Thursday that I’ve been scouring the net for any Lakers coverage I can find.  To this end, I even watched the parade on the Fox11 stream online.  After forcing myself to listen to statements like “Derek Fisher could be coming back for 7-8 million” from the broadcast crew, I decided I needed to get some thoughts out about the Lakers financial situation.

Update: I messed up on the calculation the first time.  Thanks to any_one_mouse for pointing it out.  I should proofread more…

First, some assumptions.  If we assume that Adam Morrison’s rights are renounced (as certain as certain gets), Jordan Farmar’s rights are renounced ($2.8 mil), and Shannon Brown opts out ($2.2 mil), both of which are highly probable, the Lakers will have $81,728,202 in salary under contract (not including bonuses).  The luxury tax should come in at around $68 million according to the NBA front office.  Doing the quick math, this implies that the Lakers will have $94 million in player costs this upcoming season.  This is a significantly less than last year’s $112 million, but it is also assuming that the Lakers don’t re-sign Derek Fisher, DJ Mbenga, or Josh Powell.  Needless to say, the Lakers are taking it up the wazoo from the luxury tax, and every dollar that we spend is doubled (refer to Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ for more details).

This also includes the Mid-Level Exception, the only tool available to the Lakers to sign free agents due to being over the salary cap (way over in our case).  The value of the MLE is dependent on the average salary of all NBA players, and usually floats somewhere between $5-6 million.  In the case of the Lakers (and any team over the luxury tax), the use of the MLE is actually $10-12 million dollars due to the doubling effect of the luxury tax.  So if the Lakers actually want to use the MLE, they’ll have to keep in mind that doing so puts them at $104-106 million dollars in player costs next season (and even moreso beyond).

Of the 6 players listed above, the one’s that I think are “most likely” to return are Derek Fisher and Josh Powell.  As Kobe stated in his postgame interviews, Derek Fisher is the heart and soul of this team, and I find it difficult envisioning this Laker team without Fisher next year.  Rest assured, Fisher won’t be signing for $7-8 million like the Fox11 crew were trying to shove down my throat.  The minimum salary for a 10+ year veteran (Fisher is a 14 year veteran) will be $1.35 million, and the best part is that it doesn’t count against the luxury tax, so no doubling.  I have an inkling that Fisher will be fine with $1.35 million, especially considering that other teams are not likely to pay him any more than that.

The one thing supporting Josh Powell’s return is simply this: Kobe Bryant likes him.  As highlighted in an excellent article by Dave McMenamin, Powell is one of the few players that Kobe has genuinely liked as a person and not just as a player, and Phil Jackson also praised Powell’s work ethic during the playoffs.  However, Powell will be a 5-year veteran after this season, putting his minimum salary almost squarely at $1 million.  By comparison, a 2nd round draft pick will make $473,604 next season, less than half of what Powell will make.  This is also the main reason why I don’t expect DJ Mbenga to be back.  While DJ has been a fan favorite, his production can easily be re-produced by a big selected at either #43 or #58 (the Lakers 2 second round picks), and at half the cost.  Whether Powell sticks around will largely be dependent on Kobe’s endorsement.

Assuming the Lakers re-sign Derek Fisher and Josh Powell for their respective minimum salaries and they keep both 2nd round picks, that brings the Lakers total player costs to $97 million, exactly the same as last year’s player costs.  (Update: The veteran’s minimum exception is only the amount above the 2-yr veteran’s minimum amount, so the Lakers still have to pay the 2-yr veteran’s minimum to both Fisher and Powell if this were to happen.  Thus, the Lakers total player costs would actually be closer to $98-99 million.  Thanks to Exick for the correction). This precludes, however, the usage of the Mid-Level Exception.  The best thing about the Mid-Level Exception is that it can be broken up into pieces.  If the Lakers only want to use $3 mil of the MLE, they can use that much and renounce the rest.  Some names that have been brought up in the comments include Steve Blake, Dorell Wright, and Earl Watson in order to fill the void at PG that would result in Farmar and Brown’s simultaneous departure.  Fisher is also not getting any younger, and the need to groom a suitable replacement grows more pressing with every year (although Fisher really knows how to turn it on during the playoffs).  None of the three guys above deserves a full $5 million in my opinion, so I expect the Lakers to try and sign them or someone like them for a little less than that, say $3-4 million, and pocket the rest.

The one thing to keep in mind is that the Lakers are a business as well as a sports team.  While Dr. Buss has shown the willingness to spend on a winner, he also understands that over-spending can severely handicap a team going forward (the New York Knicks are a great example).  While some moves may make absolute basketball sense, it is often the financial side which wins the day.  It’s getting a deal to make both basketball and financial sense that is the goal.

June 13, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02200618 Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum makes a slam dunk in the first quarter of the NBA Finals Game Five at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 13 June 2010. The best of seven series is tied at two apiece.

His post-season stats won’t show it, but it was blatantly obvious in Game 7 – a game in which he primarily rode the bench – that Andrew Bynum has evolved as a player and as a man. Limited by a knee injury that has bothered him for months, the Lakers’ Big Enigma showed a sense of fortitude that has largely been missing during his first four years in the NBA.

Thankfully, I’ve never torn cartilage in my knee or moreover, tried to play basketball with an injury that severe. I imagine it doesn’t feel like a simple sprained or twisted knee though. Since he entered the league, Andrew has arguably been the most polarizing player on the Lakers roster, with some fans prognosticating a Hall of Fame career and others viewing him as one of the biggest busts in franchise history. Regardless of whether you are a Bynum apologist or champion, one thing was made abundantly clear in these epic 2010 playoffs: #17 is officially, undoubtedly, a gamer.

Gutty isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when you describe Bynum, but his performances against Oklahoma City, Utah, Phoenix and Boston were a huge testament to how far he has come since he was drafted directly out of high school. In many ways, I think that his newfound toughness paralleled that of the entire team in 2010, as evidenced by the Lakers’ grind-it-out mindset that clinched Game 7 against the Celtics. Instead of drawing Kobe’s ire, Andrew earned the remarkably resilient superstar’s respect during these playoffs by pushing forward on a leg that was ready to give out at any given moment. He also received praise from Pau Gasol, who was forced to fill the void in the paint when Bynum was out due to injury during the 2008 playoffs.

“What Andrew is doing throughout these playoffs has been incredible,” said Gasol. “To be able to play through his injuries and the soreness.”

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak echoed the Spaniard’s positive sentiments: “In the world of sports, it’s courageous to see a player get out there and do that. Of course, there are a lot of people in this country that are very courageous that are not in sports. I don’t want to overplay it. But in what we do, it’s showing a lot of guts and a lot of maturity to go out there and try to play.”

Even Phil Jackson, who has notoriously come down hard on Bynum, has noticed the change in his center’s mentality. After Bynum re-tweaked his troublesome knee during the Finals, Jackson said, “He’s been able to overcome those odds almost all the way through these playoffs, ever since Oklahoma. So we’re really optimistic that he’ll be able to find a way to do that.”

I am sure Bynum appreciates the words of encouragement, but the most sure-fire sign of his maturation during this year’s playoffs is that his drive to persevere through injury came from within. “It’s motivating for me,” said Bynum after Game 1 against the Celtics. “I’m just gonna to keep going out there and playing as hard as I can, and whatever happens, happens.”

Despite losing Game 2 at home, Bynum did exactly that with a difference-making 21 points, six rebounds and an especially impressive seven blocks.

In addition to his improved determination, Andrew also provided the Lakers with a boost of confidence and somewhat unexpected dose of enthusiasm, even when relegated to warming the bench at times during the 2010 playoffs.

“I think this one, when we win it, it’s going to taste much sweeter than the one last year,” said Bynum last Thursday before Game 7. “Just knowing that I played with the injury, [came] through and helped us get here. It’s big. We have to win. We’re at home. Everything. We have the momentum right now. We have to go out there and beat this team.”

His pre-game zeal matched his in-game vigor, as there was no bigger cheerleader at STAPLES Center during Game 7 than #17. Whether waving his hands in the air to energize an already rabid fan base or congratulating his teammates during each timeout, Bynum’s presence was felt even when he was not physically able to contribute on the court. As more of a role player in the Finals, Andrew was invaluable.

“It’s all about how you look at it and how you think,” said Bynum about his injury earlier in the playoffs. Call it perspective from playing in the league for a few years or Zen magic; Andrew has transformed himself into a player deserving of unanimous praise for the way he handled himself over the past two-plus months. How this translates into Bynum’s on-court production for next season remains a mystery. Watching him gut it out in these playoffs should finally end the speculation about his courage and heart though.

“I have to go out and be ready to play,” said Bynum before Game 7. No hesitation. No doubt. Just words of confidence from a player who blossomed in unexpected ways during the 2010 playoffs.