Lakers center Andrew Bynum, left, walks back to the bench with teammate Pau Gasol during a game against San Antonio in April. Bynum figures to play an even larger role in the team's offensive strategy this season. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / April 13, 2011)
When the Lakers interviewed coaches to take over for Phil Jackson, team executive Jim Buss explicitly told candidates Brian Shaw and Mike Brown that Andrew Bynum needed to get the ball down low.
Early and aplenty.
Brown will put it to the test when Bynum returns from a four-game suspension Saturday against the Denver Nuggets.
"He's going to see it probably a lot more than what he did in the past," Brown said. "But he's going to have to be able to do something with it in order to get it and keep getting it."
Bynum should be pleasantly surprised to be that high in the Lakers' offensive scheme.
He experienced 48 hours of raging criticism last May from all corners, including many Lakers fans, after driving his forearm into the rib cage of an in-flight Jose Barea during the Lakers' playoff finale against Dallas.
The NBA originally suspended Bynum five games for belting the tiny guard, but reduced it to four to account for the 19.5% reduction of the lockout-shortened season from 82 games to 66.
Bynum originally would have forfeited $677,272 in salary and was also fined $25,000 for removing his jersey as he left the court after getting ejected. It was his second suspension in the last year. He drew a two-game penalty last March for flattening Minnesota forward Michael Beasley.
"Suspensions are definitely weird. It hurt," Bynum said of his latest one. "You're kind of just sitting out, watching all the games on the telly. That's what I did."
He averaged 11.3 points and 9.4 rebounds last season, his sixth with the Lakers, and his scoring was actually down from 15 points a game in 2009-10.
"I want to get out there and dominate in the low block," he said Friday. "That's what I'm here for."
Bynum, 24, worked out during the off-season with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach and said his body fat fell from 9.5% to 5.1% while he maintained the same weight (290 pounds).
But he said he might be "a little winded" when he returned to the court. It's actually an improvement from saying he was "heavily winded" after the Lakers' first exhibition game.
The Lakers hope he catches his wind soon. In fact, Brown envisioned Bynum becoming an All-Star.
"From the outside looking in, you see him getting better every year and you'd think that he would get to the point where he is that," Brown said.
With Yao Ming retired and Tim Duncan's skill set in decline, All-Star voting will be wide open at the center position for the Western Conference.
Among the possibilities are Bynum, Marc Gasol (Memphis), Nene (Denver), DeAndre Jordan (Clippers) and Al Jefferson (Utah).
After Brown was hired, he arrived with a slew of defense-driven DVDs to show players. His thoughts and philosophies on how to prevent teams from scoring were a key part of getting the job.
It's way too early to declare anything a success, but the Lakers held their last two opponents under 33% shooting, the first time they've done that since November 1959.
They were still in Minneapolis at the time and held the Detroit Pistons to 28.6% and the Cincinnati Royals to 31.3%.
On Tuesday, the Lakers held Utah to 32.2% in their 96-71 victory. Two days later, they limited New York to 31.3% shooting in a 99-82 victory.
Now they get Bynum back.
"Andrew gives us a lot of size, strength, intimidation," Pau Gasol said. "We're going to be a better defensive team in there."
Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.
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