Lakers' Bynum escapes summer's stresses with rigorous training
By BRODERICK TURNER - Property of The Press-Enterprise
The voice on the other end of the phone still lacked bass -- the voice of the 19-year-old kid that Andrew Bynum is.
The laugh, the way he answered questions, the fact he still doesn't shave -- all signs of how much more growing Bynum has to do, while playing in this man's world of the NBA.
He still has an easy-going, unassuming demeanor, which served him well this summer amid the fuss and furor.
There was criticism from Kobe Bryant directed at Bynum, and constant trade rumors involving the Lakers' young center. Bynum had to endure stinging words and the disfavor of those among the Lakers faithful who wanted him sent packing. He had his coaching staff, team management and teammates to appease.
For many, especially for a teenager, trying to please so many could be a burden.
But Bynum said he kept his focus on working to improve. His approach was to delve into the positives and not worry about the negatives.
"Hopefully, I can just go out there and play well this season and have all those (critical) people eventually become my fans," Bynum said softly in his first extensive interview of the summer. "I know that I've got to prove that I'm worth them holding off trading me."
Bynum's first big step in that mission could be winning a starting job. He got a taste of it last season, and the two teammates he's competing with, veterans Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm, both are returning from injuries.
The door is open for Bynum.
"I think it's open for any of us," he said. "So this year I've got to take that job."
Handling the Criticism
Late last season Bynum began to see the need for physical improvement, the need to develop his skills, the need to make basketball a year-round job.
So with help from his brother, Corey Thomas, Bynum enlisted Sean Zarzana, a chiropractic physician in Atlanta who works with NBA and NFL players, to become his trainer.
The idea, Bynum said, was to "be the best Andrew Bynum can be." It was not to prove anyone wrong or to change Bryant's mind.
In fact, Bynum maintained he was unaware Bryant denounced him in an amateur video in which the superstar was furious the Lakers wouldn't give up Bynum to acquire star point guard Jason Kidd.
"Andrew Bynum. What the ..." Bryant could be heard saying during a profanity-laced diatribe. "Are you kidding me? Andrew Bynum?"
"Really. I never heard that," Bynum said sheepishly. "It's not a big deal to me, really. It sounds like a frustrated veteran saying something because things didn't go right last season. But who wouldn't want Jason Kidd?"
Bynum said he has yet to hear from Bryant. But the two will see each other Monday, if not sooner, when the Lakers meet the media before they leave to start training camp in Hawaii on Tuesday.
However, it's not Bynum's way to create waves. Even all the summer trade talk, in which his name was mentioned in proposed deals for Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal, didn't bother him, he said.
"He should be honored," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said recently. "Here is a kid that really hasn't done that much yet, and people are talking about him as a person to trade for. That's like taking the notoriety without having been productive yet ...
"But he should know that there are a lot of supporters here that want to see him do well, and he knows I'm one of them."
Bynum has had ardent supporters in Lakers owner Jerry Buss and his son Jim, the team's vice president of player personnel. Jim Buss always has claimed Bynum was his choice as the team's No. 10 pick in the 2005 draft, and has never wanted to deal him.
"It makes you feel good because those are the big fish in the organization," Bynum said.
Summer of Hard Training
Bynum played all 82 games last season, averaging 7.8 points on 55.8 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots.
Because of injuries to Brown and Mihm, Bynum started the first 14 games, averaging 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds. But there was a slow decline in his productivity, and his stamina and work ethic were questioned.
If Bynum were to live up to the big expectations placed on his 7-foot, 285-pound frame, something had to change. That's where Zarzana came in.
Zarzana began the process by educating Bynum on nutrition, sleeping habits and overall wellness. He worked with something Zarzana calls core neuromuscular proprioceptive training, to "try to get the brain and body to function together."
Then there were the workouts. Zarzana designed a program that makes Bynum "more effective at his position." They worked out four to six hours, six to seven days a week in Atlanta.
Bynum ran a mile in 8 minutes, 49 seconds when they began. Zarzana said he's shaved more than two minutes off that time.
Bynum improved his bench press from 265 pounds to 305, and his squats from 265 pounds 10 times to 405 pounds 10 times. His body fat dropped from 12 percent to nine.
He ran 50- and 100-meter sprints. He did sprints with a parachute on his back, 50 to 60 yards on straightaways, backpedals at 45-degree angles and zigzags.
And of course there were basketball drills that former NBA star Gerald Wilkins put Bynum through.
"The kid has worked extremely hard, and on his own accord," Zarzana said by phone. "It didn't take anybody to fire this kid up but himself. He realized going into his third year that he's no longer a rookie and he's expected to be a starter now. He came to me and said, 'I want to be the best center in this game. Can you help me?' "
Jackson said he would be happy with Bynum's progress when he can average 15 points and 10 rebounds. However, Bynum has impressed his teammates in pickup games at the Lakers' training facility.
"He looks real good out here," Luke Walton said by phone. "He looks stronger. He jumps better. He's definitely improved since last year. I'm kind of excited to see if he keeps it up."
Reach Broderick Turner at bturner@PE.com