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At 19, Bynum is now front and center

October 28, 2006|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Andrew Bynum celebrated his 19th birthday Friday, receiving a cupcake with a candle on it at the Lakers' training facility.

Then he was handed a bigger gift by the Lakers, who picked up the option on his contract, ensuring he would be with the team through next season. The cupcake was a friendly gesture and the exercised option was a no-brainer, particularly after the way Bynum played this week.

Nobody is predicting the 10th pick in last year's draft will replace a particular seven-footer around here, but Bynum has shown spots of dominance earlier than expected. The timing couldn't be better for the Lakers, with Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm out until at least mid-November.

"Up until last week, I would say that he's probably on schedule," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "He's played two games here that may lead you to believe he's a little bit ahead of schedule. Let's see if he can continue to do it. If he can, he's probably ahead of schedule. If not, he's on schedule."

Bynum averaged 19.5 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the team's last two exhibition games. He made a combined 17 of 21 shots against Phoenix and Denver and demonstrated some up-and-under post moves that got the best of Denver center Nene.

On another sequence Thursday against Denver, Bynum blocked a shot, ran down court and made a layup at the other end, a rarity for a seven-footer.

"You just don't see that," Kupchak said. "It's there, it's just a matter of how often he can bring it out. And will he continue to improve? He's got good footwork. I think Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] has helped. He's got natural gifts -- length, size and his hands in particular. He can catch.

"Maybe this is a Wally Pipp situation. Or maybe he'll turn into a backup again. We don't know. The important thing is he's got the tools and he does like to work, but he has to bring it every day. And if he can do that, then he'll be fine."

Bynum will start in Tuesday's opener against Phoenix and could play as many as seven more games before Brown and Mihm are expected to return. Bynum averaged 1.6 points and 1.7 minutes in 46 games last season.

The Lakers could exercise another one-year option on Bynum at this time next year that would keep him on the team through 2008-09.


In addition to Bynum, who will make $2.2 million next season, the Lakers exercised the option on Sasha Vujacic's contract for next season.

Vujacic, who averaged 10.8 points in exhibition play, will make $1.8 million next season, well under the league average of about $5 million.

"We know Sasha played well last year and we were hoping he'd make improvements, which he did," Kupchak said.


The team did not practice Friday, but Kobe Bryant went through an individual workout and shot around afterward. His status for Tuesday's opener was called "questionable to doubtful" by a team official.... Brian Grant, whose weighty contract was acquired by the Lakers as part of the Shaquille O'Neal trade in July 2004, officially retired Friday after being cut Thursday by Boston. Grant, 34, has suffered from knee problems for years but is still on the Lakers' payroll for one more season and will receive about $13.6 million from them in 2006-07. The Celtics will pay him $1.8 million. Grant, who spent 12 seasons with the Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat, Lakers and Phoenix Suns, was sent to the Celtics from Phoenix as part of a draft-day deal in June. He never reported to training camp.

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