Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Deron Williams.
What do those names have in common?
All-stars? Check. All-NBA performers? Indeed. Franchise cornerstones? You betcha.
They’re all also players that had their free agency status become a major storyline within the last couple of years. Questions about whether they’d stay or go once their contracts were up or if their team would end up trading them were discussed ad nauseam by fans and media alike. Besides Dwight Howard, none of those players actually does still play for the team that wrestled with their star player’s contract status (and Dwight may not start next season on the Magic either). LeBron and Bosh left as free agents (though technically were signed and traded) while Paul, Carmelo, and Deron were all traded for packages of attractive assets (young players, expiring contracts, and draft picks).
Will Andrew Bynum be next?
One of the under-discussed topics related to Bynum’s future is the fact that he’s entering into his walk year; that after next season he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. The Lakers’ front office has already stated they’re planning to pick up Andrew’s option for next season, but beyond that we don’t yet know what his future holds.
Will he sign a contract extension? Will he test the waters and explore his free agent options? No one really knows at this point.
When asked about his future after the Lakers’ game 5 defeat to the Thunder, Bynum first said that he didn’t care where he played and then added that he’d like to remain a Laker. Many have made a big deal about the “I don’t care” part of his statement but when put it into context it doesn’t bother me much at all.
Remember, Bynum’s name has appeared in countless trade rumors over the years and his mindset has always been that he’d play anywhere. It’s this mindset that’s at least partially allowed him to blossom as a player, a growth that contributes to him having the type of value that makes him attractive on the trade and free agent market. In essence, I prefer to focus on what he’s done – improve his game while contributing to the success of the team – rather than a soundbite that only shows he’ll try to continue to grow as a player regardless of where he’s playing.
That said, what’s different now is that it’s not the Lakers that hold all the cards. Bynum will have the ability to stay (sign an extension) or go (walk after next season) all while being non-committal about the entire process. Basically, his situation can quickly become comparable to the aforementioned stars above.
The Lakers front office has made their feelings about Bynum known. They see him as a franchise pillar that can be built upon. Issues surrounding attitude and maturity exist, but do so inside the body of a 7’1″, 285 pound man with long arms, soft hands, and tremendous skill. Wanting to keep that package of traits in-house is preferable to the alternative. Sure there’s some risk. Whether or not he matures and, if he does, the timeline in which it happens are important. Can his game continue to grow and can he take the next step, skill wise, to become an even better player? These are unknowns.
And this contributes to the dilemma the Lakers have on their hands. Bynum has shown tremendous progress as a player but still has enough issues to warrant serious questioning. Meanwhile his ability to decide his own future puts the Lakers in a position where they must explore all their options. We’ve been talking a lot about the framework of the team and the tough choices the Lakers have to make this off-season and Bynum’s contract status is a key component that must accounted for.
How much this will influence the Lakers remains to be seen. But, to be sure, it will influence them. Because despite this team obviously living in the short term world of “win now” while Kobe Bryant is still a top level contributor, the future is also very important. That means looking at the luxury tax and revenue sharing. It means looking at Gasol’s value. And, it means looking at Andrew Bynum and his looming free agency.