The Lakers shouldn't worry about whether trade rumors will negatively… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
Just like last year, the Lakers may go through most of the season with uncertainty surrounding their roster and leaving one of their marquee players twisting in the wind.
It won't exactly be a repeat episode. Pau Gasol isn't expected to publicly wonder whether the Lakers will keep him. The Lakers won't worry over upgrading at point guard, because it already acquired Steve Nash.
Instead, the scenario could involve two different characters. If a deal doesn't happen before the season starts, breathless trade reports will emerge on the Lakers' ongoing quest to secure Dwight Howard for Andrew Bynum.
It's ideal for the Lakers to have a definitive roster, but this season shouldn't be as worrisome. Last year, Mike Brown entered his first year as head coach with a limited training camp. The Lakers' quest to upgrade at point guard went unfulfilled after the nixed Chris Paul trade. And the Lakers were left without much of a bench after trading Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks. This year, the Lakers have a normal training camp, an elite point guard and an improved reserve unit led by Antawn Jamison.
But there's one very important component that makes the Bynum trade talks a non-issue: the Lakers center isn't going to fret about it.
This should hardly be surprising to anyone who's followed Bynum's seven-year career. Kobe Bryant advocated trading Bynum for Jason Kidd in that infamous amateur video in 2007. Bynum's name also has come up in trade discussions that have included Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony.
And every time questions about his standing with the Lakers comes up, Bynum shrugs his shoulders. His brutal honesty suggests such indifference is genuine.
Yet, some have expressed concern the Lakers' actions could lead him into rebelling more and/or refusing to re-sign with the Lakers once his contract ends next season.
If Bynum is going to act up next season with the Lakers (and there is a possibility he will), it will have nothing to do with the trade rumors. It will have everything to do with his self-absorbed attitude. That is the reason why it's plausible the Lakers wouldn't sign him to a long-term extension after he posted career-numbers in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8), played without a major injury and appeared in his first NBA All-Star game.
If Bynum suddenly becomes a model citizen, it probably won't be related to his flimsy standing with the Lakers, either. Although it took all season for him to take ownership of his behavior, Bynum acknowledged in his exit interview he needs to improve next year with his effort and leadership. This came after a 90-minute discussion with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike Brown about the need to stay "mentally strong," and how his effort can largely affect the Lakers' success. Whether that happens remains to be seen. Bynum has always been his own man. If he feels like maturing, he will. If he doesn't, he won't.
The same logic applies to how he will deal with an extension should the Lakers suddenly express interest in securing him because they can't get Howard.
Bynum famously said there's a "bank in every city" when he was asked during last year's All-Star break whether he worried the Lakers would trade him. But that spoke more to his laid-back demeanor than any disinterest with remaining a Laker. In his exit interview, Bynum stressed he'd like to sign a long-term extension and mentioned he preferred that to becoming a free agent next season.
It's possible he could change course, but that probably would have to do with what independent NBA salary cap expert Larry Coon told The Times' Ben Bolch weeks ago. Bynum could add three years and $57.1 million to his existing contract if he signed an extension. But if Bynum re-signed after next season, he could command a maximum five-year, $101.9 million deal. He's never publicly given any indication he'd want to sign with another team.
No one knows how everything will turn out regarding Bynum's play next season, let alone his playing future. But it's safe to say that the ongoing trade rumors will only concern the Lakers, the Magic and fans alike. It's not going to affect Bynum, though. For better and for worse, he'll stay too busy marching to the beat of his own drum to notice.
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