It will be a festive occasion at Staples Center Christmas Day when Kobe Bryant and LeBron James oppose each other. National television. The NBA’s two biggest stars facing off. I’ll eagerly arrive at my seat in the press box.
That’s the glamour. But now the reality. The key to the Lakers’ chances of stringing together a succession of championship will be how Andrew Bynum progresses.
If the 22-year-old kid matures and becomes dominant on a consistent basis the Lakers will be close to unbeatable. With Bryant and Pau Gasol signing contract extensions the Lakers are going to remain formidable. But that could mean some championships and some disappointments if the young center doesn’t become a force.
And right now he’s not playing well.
“I’m kinda in a funk,” Bynum admitted after struggling with foul trouble last weekend against New Jersey.
Coach Phil Jackson blamed Bynum, not the referees, for several fouls. It was another example of Bynum’s biggest problem as a professional, a lack of concentration.
Yes he turned pro out of high school and yes he has paid the price of being inexperienced. But some of the NBA’s greatest players came into the league from high school too – including Bryant ,James and Dwight Howard. They’ve adjusted.
I see the Boston Celtics as being the Lakers’ most serious challenger this season. That’s because they’ve added Rasheed Wallace to their three stars -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. And their young center, another kid who joined the NBA from high school, Kendrick Perkins, is having an outstanding season.
The Celtics were champions two seasons ago. They didn’t have the same outstanding bench last season, so Orlando made the Finals.
There are several possibilities as the East finalist this season, most notably Boston, Orlando and Cleveland. If the Lakers get there, a strong opponent will challenge them.
Laker fans can admire the play of Bryant, Gasol, Ron Artest and the others but they should also hope Bynum gets his game together.