The Lakers picked up Andrew Bynum's contract option for the 2012-13… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
By officially exercising Andrew Bynum's $16.1-million option for 2012-13, the Lakers merely performed the equivalent of a college student writing his or her name on the cover sheet of a term paper.
Now the work officially begins, and it's going to take a lot of sleepless nights and plenty of research on how to answer this question:
What should the Lakers do about Bynum's long-term future?
It's a question I posed a few days after Bynum's exit interview, but it bears repeating as the Lakers embark on such an unsettled issue. It might seem odd saying that, because after all, Bynum posted career-highs last season in points (18.7), and rebounds (11.8). He finally played without a major injury. Bynum earned his first NBA All-Star appearance. He climbed ahead of Pau Gasol in the team's offensive pecking order behind Kobe Bryant.
But that doesn't take into account Bynum's immaturity. He shot an ill-advised three-pointer in a regular-season game, earned a benching for it, and then claimed he would continue to shoot such shots in the future. Bynum elected to sit out of team huddles in a few games. He earned two ejections against Houston within a two-week span. He blew off a meeting with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. On the court, Bynum's inconsistent effort played a large part in the Lakers' early playoff exit.
That's why the Lakers' front office will have tough decisions to make this off-season beyond figuring out how to trim payroll while also upgrading the roster. They'll have to mull over how to address Bynum's future beyond next season. Below are the pros and cons of each scenario.
1. Sign Bynum to a long-term deal.
Pros: The Times' Mike Bresnahan and ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin both reported that negotiations between the Lakers and Bynum haven't started yet, but they could soon. That makes sense considering how prolific he was this season. Even if his immaturity severely cost the Lakers, Bynum conceded during his exit interview that he needs to improve his leadership and effort. Considering that Bynum has already grown so much in the past seven years in his post game, work ethic and managing injuries, it's feasible that he will also correct the aforementioned behavioral issues.
Cons: Bynum will probably mature, but how long will that take? The Lakers could afford to exercise some patience for Bynum's development and health in past seasons because he was a complementary presence. That's not the case anymore. With Bynum appearing to be the team's next franchise player, the Lakers' can't afford to gamble on his maturation.
2. Trade him
Pros: Of course, the Lakers could also do this even after reaching a long-term deal with Bynum. But it would be much easier to convince teams to take less expensive contracts. Plus, all the time negotiating over Bynum's deal takes away time and energy from working the phones. Whether it's trading Bynum as the centerpiece in a deal for Dwight Howard or collecting enough pieces to ensure better depth, the Lakers can still find some better alternatives. Besides, it's plausible the Lakers won't be able to trade Pau Gasol because of his two-year, $38.3-million contract. So if the Lakers are going to trim payroll, the option might fall on ridding themselves of Bynum.
Cons: Who are the Lakers going to get in return? Howard has given indications he doesn't want to come to the Lakers and play second fiddle behind Bryant. Which role players would make up for the loss of Bynum's size? Yes, Bynum's hardly the complete player the Lakers want him to be. But he still is a valuable commodity. Instead, the Lakers should make various tweaks to their bench so not everything falls on the shoulders of Bryant and Bynum.
3. Let Bynum become a free agent after next season
Pros: The Lakers don't exactly have to address this issue immediately. Bynum's now under contract for the 2012-13 season. So the Lakers can use this upcoming year to see if Bynum actually will mature before granting him a long-term deal. It could serve as the best carrot to motivate Bynum into producing consistently, while also minimizing the Lakers' risk in keeping him. Don't worry too much about the scenario that Bynum could walk out on the Lakers once he becomes a free agent. He's indicated he'd prefer wearing the purple & gold.
Cons: Bynum's already too hard to predict. He's already indicated indifference as to whether he'd get traded because there's a "bank in every city." So what's stopping him from changing his mind about his Laker loyalty once he's officially on the open market? Besides, it's very possible that Bynum won't change his behavior, leaving the Lakers with another early playoff exit and a lost center without getting anything in return.
Verdict: The Lakers need to handle Bynum with a two-pronged approach. They need to shop Bynum on the market this off-season to see what they can get in return. Meanwhile, they need to remain open to long-term negotiations in case they can't land Howard. But under no circumstances should the Lakers allow Bynum to become a free agent after next season. That would just make this dicey scenario even more unpredictable.
You've heard my take. Now what's yours? Vote in the poll below and explain in the comments section.
Lakers pick up $16.1-million option on Andrew Bynum's contract
Lakers report card: Andrew Bynum's effectiveness hinged on effort
Is Andrew Bynum's talent worth the Lakers' long-term investment?
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