ESPNAndrew Bynum played seven seasons with Kobe Bryant as his teammate before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers this summer. He shared success with his fellow prep-to-pros product, making three NBA Finals, winning two championships and even both being named All-Stars last season. But by the end of his time in L.A., Bynum felt that Bryant’s ball-dominant ways hurt his development as one of the league’s best centers. “I thought it really helped me a lot obviously at first, because he draws so much attention it’s hard for guys to double team and key on you, so it helped me tremendously,” Bynum told a group of L.A. reporters before the Lakers played the Sixers on Sunday. “Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth.” Bryant, who said he met with Bynum for 3-4 minutes after he put up 34 points in the Lakers’ 111-98 win over the Sixers, was not offended by his former teammate’s remarks. In fact, he agreed with them. “For sure, because when you’re playing with me you obviously have to sacrifice something,” Bryant said. “Same thing with me and Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). You kind of off-set each other to a certain extent. So, I mean, that’s true. When he gets back and he’s healthy, he’ll come out here and he’ll be the focal point of their attack and he’ll be getting the ball more and you’ll see big games from him more consistently.” Bryant was very supportive of Bynum in his comments, calling the 7-footer “really a special player at both ends of the floor.” The only pot shot Bryant took was over Bynum’s combed-down afro coif, saying, “I don’t know what he’s doing with that perm, but I guess he’s a trendsetter.”

This is why the new (old) Kobe Bryant is the best interview in sports today: there is no lie in him. Did he stunt his growth? “For sure. When you’re playing with me you obviously have to sacrifice something.” Nuts on the face of every reporter thinking they could start some kind of controversy or verbal war between A Pimp Named Slickforward and the 5-time NBA champ. Kobe Bean Bryant doesn’t have time to waste dancing around your bullshit questions. “Did I stop Andrew Bynum from being a better player? Probly. That’s the kind of shit that happens when you’re winning championships and playing with the best on the planet.”

That last quote was from Luther, Kobe’s anger translator.

The other thing to take notice to here is how Bynum didn’t shy away from calling himself the best center in the world. “Personally I think they traded No. 1 for No. 2″ LOVE that shit. If you’re gonna sit on the sidelines looking like Moe from the ghetto Three Stooges then you might as well give your mouth a workout and kick Dwight Howard while he’s down.

Over the past quarter season, it seems as if everyone (including myself) has forgotten that Andrew Bynum is, in reality, an all-star NBA player. Never have I seen anyone go from dominant force to walking joke is such a short span of time, but the truth is, when healthy, Bynum is one of the best basketball players in the world. Maybe it’s the oppressive and relentless Philly media’s backlash at his injuries, maybe it’s our collective infatuation with peculiar player behavior, or maybe it’s his own damned fault for wearing a permed afro, Isotoner gloves, and a velvet suit on the sidelines. Whatever the cause of him turning from legitimate center to cartoon may be, the fact remains that he’s only weeks or months away from creating a serious shift in power in the Eastern Conference. He’s scheduled to meet with his doctors again on the 20th, and while I wouldn’t hold my breath for any good news, he does say that his right knee is fine and that the left feels ahead of schedule.

Perhaps this has been his plan all along to not play for the Sixers and test free agency once he’s healthy like some have claimed, but given the rumors concerning how much he doesn’t like basketball I’d say it’s safe to assume he’s in it for the money and the Sixers are the team who can offer him the most of that. Is Andrew Bynum the best center in the world? No. But if we see him actually wearing a Sixers uniform sometime in the next couple of months, the playoffs will look much different than most fans would’ve envisioned.

PS – Kwame Brown is AWFUL.