Archives For June 2012

It’s always a bitter feeling when the Finals roll around and the Lakers aren’t participating – especially when they’re one of the handful of teams with legitimate title aspirations. But, for the second season in a row, this is where we sit. However, as a basketball fan, this Finals match up is one that intrigues me to no end. Both teams offer elite star players in their primes, are well coached, and the results will impact the league for years to come. If the Heat win, they’ll have achieved what they were formed to do and can (potentially) build on this success for future seasons. If the Thunder win, they’ll be so young that it could easily tip the balance of power in their direction for the next several years (especially if their ownership is willing to go deep into the tax to keep the team together).

From the beginning of the season this is the match up many predicted and now we have it. As a Laker fan this may upset me but as someone that loves the game I can’t help but be excited. Here are a few of my thoughts heading into the highly anticipated first game…

  • The LeBron vs. Durant match up will be the headline grabber but I think one of the most important tactical match ups will be Bosh vs. Ibaka. Bosh’s ability to spread the floor and play in space will challenge Ibaka’s desire to guard the rim and play close to the paint. If Serge can’t guard the rim effectively, LeBron and Wade will have a much easier time finishing off drives.  And if Serge decides to leave Bosh to still help at the basket he’ll be put in the difficult position of having to challenge without fouling while also leaving one of the premier jump shooting big men alone. If Bosh is able to hit his jumper like he did in game 7 vs. the Celtics, it will be interesting to see how the Thunder counter that match up over the course of the series.
  • The other match up that interests me is Wade vs. Harden. Wade hasn’t looked himself these playoffs and with reports about him getting his knee drained against the Pacers, it would not surprise me if he’s banged up. But he’ll need to be at, or close to, his best this series if the Heat are to win, especially when matched up with Harden. Wade will need to make Harden work hard on both sides of the floor and wear him down by running him off picks and attacking him in isolation from both the wing and the post. When the Thunder played the Lakers (and early in the Spurs series) Harden seemed to tire on offense when he had to guard Kobe on the other end (and Ginobili when he was coming off the bench). If Harden struggles, the Thunder become more beatable as he’s the bridge between Westbrook’s all out attack game and Durant’s more patient approach. Harden will need to perform well on both ends but that’s a tall task if it’s Wade he must go at consistently.
  • It will be interesting to see how much Perkins and Joel Anthony play in this series. My hunch is that they’ll be matched up a lot with each other but when Perkins sits, Anthony won’t play at all. I don’t think the Heat can afford to play him on a jump shooting big like Ibaka or Collison. Perkins, on the other hand, will likely play more than he should – especially when the Heat go small. I think his foot speed issues will be exploited when James plays PF and Bosh plays C. Whether he can make up for that on the glass and in the halfcourt by getting his teammates open in OKC’s screen game remains to be seen, but I’d be weary of playing Perkins too much when there’s an abundance of speed on the floor for Miami.
  • Which role players will step up? Will Ibaka have one of those games where he’s nearly perfect on his mid-range J? Will Battier or Mike Miller have a game where they get hot from behind the arc? Can Haslem still make a difference even though he looks like he’s not right physically? Can Fisher summon another hero moment and twist another dagger into an opponent? I’ve seen too many big games turn on a performance from a role player to not expect one or more of these things to happen over the next couple of weeks. The stars may headline, but at least one time a supporting cast member will steal the show.
  • Out of all the players in this series, Russell Westbrook may be the true difference maker. Every other star player has a counterpart at his position that is nearly just as key except for Westbrook. If he torches Chalmers or finds his groove shooting his mid-range jumper, the Heat will need to start to trap him and shade their defense his way. This will open up opportunities for other Thunder players on every possession. By the end of the Spurs series Westbrook was making the D pay by making smart passes when they overcommitted to him. If Miami is forced to do the same, they may be in trouble.
  • Ultimately, every time I try to pick a winner to this series I can’t really decide. Neither the Heat nor the Thunder have faced a team like the one they will tonight. OKC hasn’t seen a team with Miami’s defensive ability and athletes to match their own. And the Heat haven’t faced a team with as explosive an offense nor the depth and size of the Thunder. Both will be in for a bit of a shock tonight and will need to adjust accordingly. Predicting this series is as much about who navigates that change best and at this point, it’s toss up. If I had a gun to my head I’d choose Miami to win in 6 games but I’m about as confident in that pick as I am in winning the lottery.

However this series goes, we’ll be in for some great basketball. And while not having the Lakers still playing is disappointing, I can’t say this match up has me at all upset. These two teams have been on a collision course all season and to see it actually happen has me excited.

As a Laker fan, there’s not a player I’ve disliked more in my life than Kevin McHale. Whether it was his clothesline on Rambis, how he’d lumber up and down the court, or just his lurch-like look he was the Celtic I despised most during those epic 80’s battles.

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that one of the main reasons I also couldn’t stand him was because of how good he was and how often he’d take his defender to school – especially whoever on the Lakers was checking him (that is until the Lakers traded for his college teammate Mychal Thompson). McHale was a low post monster, shooting 55% for his career and twice eclipsing the 60% barrier in a season. His mix of long arms, fantastic footwork, and ability to mix primary moves with almost unstoppable counters made him a nightmare on the low post.

So, when McHale talks low post scoring or has opinions on the games of today’s post players, you listen. His insight in this area should be as respected as much (or more) than any other legend, especially since he relied on technical skill more than athletic prowess. At the Adidas Eurocamp, McHale was doing some talking and teaching on playing on the low block and one topic he covered should be of interesest to Lakers’ fans. Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk has the story:

The question came up of how important it was for a big man to be able to learn to pass out of a double-team in the post — a skill Lakers center Andrew Bynum has struggled to develop as he’s started to face that extra defender inside. McHale said that’ll come, but smiled when the question was asked, because it’s really the very last step to come in a competent post player’s game.

“First of all, there’s like three prongs in that thing,” he said. “One, you’ve got to get good down in the low post. Two, you’ve got to get good enough to beat your man steady. Three, they double-team you — that’s the third prong, and then you’ve got to pass out, OK?

“You learn pretty quickly, because in the NBA especially, when you start getting double-teamed a lot and when teams have success, they’ll do it every single night. Bynum a year from now will be a very good post passer. He’ll know where to go, he’ll be relaxed, he’ll read it, and pass it out. Then you’ve got murder on your hands because the guy can score down there and he can pass out. And any time two (players) guard one in our league, three have got to guard four. And three cannot guard four in the NBA, the players are too good.”

During this past season, we saw Bynum progress through all three of the prongs McHale discussed. Early in the year Bynum showed that he had the strength and size to establish the deep post. From that position he then showed he could score against single coverage with great efficiency. At that point, defenses started to adjust by double teaming him and that’s where things got tricky for the first time all-star.

Throughout the year Bynum had his ups and downs in dealing with the double team, sometimes making the right read and other times forcing the action a bit too much. Rather than making the easy pass back out to the same side wing, Bynum would try to make the homerun pass to a teammate cross court that wasn’t quite open. Other times he’d try to bully his way through the double team to score rather than pass at all. And other times, he’d (seemingly) resign himself that the double team was eminent and not work for position to make a catch at all. (As an aside, the latter two issues could also be the product of the inconsistencies the Lakers showed in featuring their big men on the block. Too often the ball stuck in the hands of perimeter players – Kobe and his wing running mates are guilty of this – and not looking inside early or often enough.)

Bynum’s inconsistency in dealing with the second defender – no matter the reason – only created further incentive for defenses to continue the tactic. It’s easy to say that Bynum was getting doubled because of his ability to consistently beat single coverage, but as McHale mentioned teams also double team because they have success doing so. That means they force turnovers, bad shots, and frustration of the guy they’re doubling. Anyone that saw the last few games of the Nuggets series clearly saw a frustrated Bynum weary of constantly having to deal with double teams.

However, as McHale also said, Bynum should only continue to grow in this area. Big men must learn to navigate defenses with their back turned to the rim and getting that grasp on where and how a defense wants to attack them takes time. I liken it to how a quarterback must turn his back to the defense when executing a play-action pass in football; big men don’t often see how the defense is shifting behind them and how their teammates move in accordance with those shifts. As bigs get more comfortable with how the D wants to double them, their reads become almost automatic and are executed off muscle memory the way a counter spin move is when the defender takes away middle.

We saw flashes of that with Bynum this year but he’s not yet a finished product. However, in time, I believe he’ll get to where he needs to be. I remember the period in their respective careers when Duncan and Shaq struggled dealing with double teams, firing passes to the other team or committing traveling violations when getting pressured by the second man. Over time they learned how to stare down the pressure of the second defender and make the right read more often than not. One day, and probably soon, Bynum will get there too.

After Magic Johnson’s retirement and the end of Showtime, the Lakers were a team in transition. They’d yet to find another franchise icon and instead put together a team of carryovers, journeymen, and youngsters. Guys like Vlade, Sedale, George Lynch, Elden Campbell, Van Exel, and Eddie Jones. What transpired was the “LakeShow” era of Los Angeles basketball that may not have won any championships but sure were fun to watch.

One of the reasons they were fun was because of Eddie Jones. Watching him run the floor and finish above the rim was like an extension those Showtime teams. Jones attacked the rim with reckless abandon and didn’t care if it was a guard or a big man under the hoop to challenge the shot – he was going to try and finish over him. This style produced countless highlight plays and had me jumping out of my seat countless times at home.

Of course, within a few years of Eddie being drafted the seeds for a new era were planted. Shaq came as a free agent, Kobe was traded for on draft day, and the expectations for the team started to change. But I’ll never forget Jones streaking down the floor and throwing it down over any and everyone. And, thanks to the beauty of the internet we can all remember it today too. Enjoy, Eddie Jones DUNKS!:

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  June 8, 2012

Basketball continues along its duel tracks, with the playoffs marching toward the final round and the rest of the teams proceeding into their seasons of change. It’s as evident here as anywhere. With Kobe heading toward his 17th season, management can ill afford to tinker and wait. Darius recently wrote about team building and the need for youth. The playoffs have been a fascinating mix of young and old, and the clock stops for no one. Here’s some links, and food for thought:

Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, compares the team’s needs this season, to their needs last season, and finds a lot of similarities.

Ben Bolch at the L.A. Times writes about Derek Fisher, hoping for another ring.

Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk reports that Kobe will revisit Germany this summer for more therapy on his knee. Andrew Bynum may have the same experimental procedure.

Mike Trudell at Lakers Reporter goes into a little more depth about training matters, during an interview with Gary Vitti.

R.R. Magellan at The No-Look Pass examines how the Oklahoma City Thunder got to where they did.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll also looks at OKC, and the clearest paradigm shift in NBA history.

Right before last night’s Eastern Conference Game 6, Emile Avanessian, at Hardwood Hype issued a challenge to LeBron. LBJ was clearly listening.

I enjoyed a cyber dinner with Emile the night before, and we discussed the conference finals, plus matters more centric to the Lakers.

Most of the recent talk of a possible Lamar return to the Lakers, has been tempered by the new one-year moratorium rule. David Lord & Mike Fisher from Dallasbasketball.com, have a possible way around that.

Elizabeth Benson at Lakers Nation, examines the need to get younger and faster.

In the wake of last night’s remarkable LeBron performance, a ton of writers sallied forth to opine. Jared Dublin at Hardwood Paroxysm,  gives us a table of contents.

***

This year’s strike-shortened season was more than a little strange. The playoffs however, have been engaging, highly competitive, and fully entertaining. This summer will not be like last summer. The gym doors won’t be locked. Coaches won’t be prohibited from talking to their players. The new draft picks won’t be sitting, wondering, and waiting. The summer league and full training camps will be back in force. And between now and then, there will be a lot to talk about. As the Chambers brothers famously sang, “time has come today.”

– Dave Murphy

Watching the playoffs unfold the way that they have has reminded me of a basic tenet of building a winning basketball team: the draft is where the foundation is formed for long term success.

We just saw the Thunder advance to the Finals with a nucleus of players (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka) that was completely home grown. The team they dispatched – the Spurs – also sported a trio of home grown stars (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili). When you look to the East, the foundations are not as plush with guys that started on those teams but two of the Celtics’ top four contributors (Pierce, Rondo) were plucked up by the C’s brass. While in Miami, several key contributors (Haslem, Chalmers, Cole, Anthony) and a franchise cornerstone (Wade) are home grown.

Of course, when building a winner, there will be outside players brought in. Be it a superstar or two (Garnett, LeBron) or a role player (Battier, Perkins), organizations are tasked with finding the right pieces to fit around the talent that they drafted and cultivated. This is how most champions have been built (the one major exception is the 2004 Pistons, but they’re always the exception) and how they will continue to be.

When you look at the Lakers, they too have been constructed using this formula. Kobe has long been the home grown franchise icon that provided a pillar to build around. Bynum too has ascended to the ranks of top flight contributor that was also selected by the Lakers. When you add players like Gasol, Odom, Ariza, and Artest the Lakers have done a good job of mixing players they’ve drafted with others acquired via trades and free agency to build teams that won championships.

However, in the two years since the Lakers have raised the Larry O’Brien trophy we’ve seen a subtle shift in how they’ve gone about building their team.

Quick, besides Bynum and Kobe tell me a player the Lakers drafted that was a key contributor to either last or this year’s team.

If you came up blank, I don’t blame you. Derek Fisher would have been an easy name but he’s since been traded and was drafted the same year as Kobe. After him there’s not an obvious name. Ebanks? Goudelock? Both saw limited action this year and had minimal impact in the big scheme of things. Last year, there wasn’t a single Laker draftee that played significant minutes outside of Kobe, Bynum, and Fisher.

Now, look back to the 2008 Finals team and the back to back title winners from 2009 and 2010. The list doesn’t grow a whole lot but it does grow. Besides Kobe and Bynum the team had Farmar, Sasha, and Walton. Of course as time went on Luke’s role became close to non-existent and Sasha worked his way into Phil Jackson’s doghouse. But at the start of the Lakers’ recent run, they were contributors.

Of course, railing against the Lakers aversion to the draft is too easy and paints too black and white a picture. In order for the Lakers to acquire Pau Gasol, they had to trade multiple draft picks. And when constructing the team in front of us now, they traded more draft picks for Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill. The latter two players are both young and provided great, albeit unsteady, production after they were acquired.

The bigger picture issue for me is that besides Hill and Sessions the Lakers have often gotten rid of youth and exchanged it for more experienced veterans. When Farmar was allowed to walk in free agency they signed Steve Blake. When Ariza left the team signed Ron. Matt Barnes has been a key rotation player the past two years and when Shannon Brown left this past off-season he wasn’t replaced at all – unless you want to count Jason Kapono’s signing.

Further analysis complicates things further. The Lakers have drafted well with the picks they’ve had. Ebanks, Goudelock, and Morris all look to be NBA quality players. The team also did sign Josh McRoberts as a young PF that has shown promise as a back up big man. But these players have not yet proven to be contributors that can stick in the rotation.

Ultimately, the Lakers have been a team that’s skewed older when looking for rotation players and that’s a departure from what earned them three straight trips to the Finals (even with the Ariza/Ron swap the team still had youth in their rotation). Whether or not this changes will depend on the myriad of decisions the team will make this summer. Two of their three stars are aging and they have precious few young options on the wing so these are surely conversations the front office is debating with the transition to next season is in full swing.

It’s interesting to see, though, how this team has evolved from one with a nice mix of home grown stars and youthful contributors to one that’s aged and overly reliant on veterans whose peaks have passed. Maybe the acquisitions of Sessions and Hill start to change that. And maybe we’ll see more youth infused in the free agency period or with a draft day acquisition beyond what the Lakers can do with the 60th pick. But as the Thunder rest today, with a Finals berth in the back pocket of their designer skinny jeans (kids these days!), the Lakers must also look at their model and wonder if they too need to get back to skewing a bit younger. After all, the last time they won a title they did just that.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  June 6, 2012

It’s been interesting, watching the battle between old and young throughout the playoffs. The final four is mostly three parts veteran, one part youth. Tonight could be curtains for the San Antonio Spurs, facing elimination at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder represent the last opportunity for some semblance of the NBA’s next generation to get their shot at the Larry O’Brien. Of course, Kevin Durant isn’t exactly a bright-eyed rookie at this point – this being his fifth year in the league. Meanwhile, the old-as-Methuselah Celtics head back to Boston, with a chance to put away Miami and head to another finals appearance. Here’s a smattering of links from Laker-centric to the games at hand:

Brian Kamenetzky at ESPN’s Land O’Lakers remarks on the option pickup for Andrew Bynum’s last year under contract.

Dave McMenamin from ESPN Los Angeles, delivers his Mike Brown report card.

Mark Medina at the LA. Times has a report card for the front office.

Mike Bresnahan at the Times weighs in on Bynum’s pickup.

Matt Moore at Eye On Basketball writes about Orlando’s continued effort to being Phil Jackson to their front office, in a hybrid long distance relationship.

Jeff Latzke from the AP, files a report for Yahoo, about OKC on the verge of advancing, and the Spurs’ determination not to let it happen.

Big50 at Pounding the Rock has a preview for tonight’s game.

Aaron McGuire provides a game six Manna of Hope for 48 Minutes of Hell.

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo writes about Miami’s frailties, and the possibility of an experiment gone wrong,

Mark Spears at Yahoo writes about the Celtics who wouldn’t die, headed back to TD Garden.

***

Generational questions and the matter of direction, loom large for the Los Angeles Lakers. Age is an obvious talking point, with Kobe nearing his end game. That in of itself doesn’t necessarily steer the boat but winning does. There’s also a question of style, of power versus speed. Boston as a team may be old, but Rajon Rondo isn’t. Without his quickness and game-changing ability, the Celtics aren’t still in this thing.

As widely noted, Andrew Bynum’s final option year has been exercised. It doesn’t necessarily secure his future – Darius wrote about uncertainty and free agency. And then there’s the matter of money – the staggering amount that’s on our plate right now, and the fact that most of it comes off the books in 2014. This brings us back to the here and now – what are the changes this summer, how does it or doesn’t it position us for the future? It’s the question of priorities and choices – youth, speed, power, and veteran ability down the stretch. Which path do we take? How do we best surround Kobe with assets that can bring him one more ring? Because forget all the on-record talk about lots more championships before he’s done – the end game right now, is one more.

– Dave Murphy

Money On The Mind

Darius Soriano —  June 5, 2012

Yesterday, the Lakers did what they’ve been saying they would for months and exercised their team option on Andrew Bynum’s contract for next season. As a result, big ‘Drew will rake in $16.1 million dollars next year (while also setting up other questions still to be answered, but that’s another topic).

This commitment to Bynum got me to thinking about the Lakers finances both short and long term. As we know the new collective bargaining agreement is designed to level the playing field through punitive penalties to high spending teams. The Lakers, of course, are one such team. So, in building for today and tomorrow, the Lakers must take into account their payroll into every move made. This may not be what fans want to hear, but it’s an inescapable truth and must be part of the calculus of how this team moves forward.

Consider the following facts:

  • With Bynum in the fold, the Lakers’ payroll for next season will be around $79.3 million. However, this is before Ramon Sessions makes a decision on his player option. If Sessions picks up his option and plays out the final year of his contract the Lakers payroll jumps to about $83.8 million. If he opts out and the Lakers re-sign him, their payroll will be even higher.
  • The above total will also be affected by the other free agent decisions that the team must make. Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes are both free agents and losing both creates a major hole on the wing behind Kobe and Ron. The likelihood that one of them returns is high and my bet would be on Ebanks returning, though at what cost remains to be seen. Jordan Hill is also a free agent and while the CBA dictates what his maximum salary can be next year ($3.6 million) the team will need to decide if he’s a part of their future as well and at what cost. Darius Morris is also a free agent and the Lakers will need to decide if they’d like to keep him.
  • The CBA dictates that next season the luxury tax line will be at least as high as it was this season – $70 million.
  • The CBA also dictates that next year’s tax payments will equal $1 for every $1 a team is over the tax line.
  • After next season (2013-14; year 3 of the new CBA), the escalated tax penalties kick in and the year following that (2014-15; year 4 of the new CBA) teams are eligible to be hit by the repeater tax (defined as a team that pays the luxury tax for 4 years in a 5 year span).

From here it’s pretty clear that the Lakers have to think both short and long term, not only from a “how do we contend” standpoint but also a “how do we keep our payroll reasonable” standpoint. Every team will have to navigate these waters but a team like the Lakers – with heavy financial commitments to several key players – are already working with their backs against the wall. They need to balance a desire to win (now and later) with the desire (need?) to get below the tax line by the summer of 2014.

Fortunately, there’s a ready made plan of attack already built into the contracts the Lakers currently have on their books. In the summer 2014, the Lakers don’t have a single player under contract. That is the summer Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Steve Blake’s contracts all expire. At that point, the Lakers can (and likely will) work under the framework of the CBA to rebuild their team into one that can contend as quickly as possible while not going into luxury tax territory. The decisions that will need to be made at that point (especially in regards to Kobe) will be hard ones no doubt, but they’re properly set up to make them.

(Side note: What happens with Andrew Bynum long term will affect the Lakers’ payroll for 2014 and beyond. If he signs an extension or tests free agency but returns to the Lakers, he will be on the books beyond 2014 and his salary must be accounted for here. The same can be said if he’s traded for an equal talent that the Lakers feel is a cornerstone player for their future. Whatever the case, it’s fair to assume the Lakers will have a max (or close to max) level contract on their roster that summer. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the aforementioned players’ contracts are expiring and the team will be positioned to get under the tax line that summer.)

Of course, that’s not the only year with financial concerns. The 2013-14 season will hit the Lakers hard in terms of tax payments. Eric Pincus did some math on the matter and estimates a $92 million dollar payroll in player contracts (an amount he calculates based off filling out the roster) will equate to $144.5 million dollars in payroll + luxury tax payments. Are the Lakers willing to spend that much that season? The answer to that question will dictate every roster decision we see in between now and then.

As we’ve been saying all off-season, the Lakers will have many decisions to make in terms of how they want to build a team and what model will be most successful for them. However, we mustn’t forget that financial concerns will always loom large. These concerns will be part of every roster move made (or not made) and will shape the details of any deal significantly. So, while Andrew Bynum’s option being picked up was a no-brainer and great news for Lakers fans, there will be harder decisions to be made in the future in how the Lakers spend to compete.

*Payroll and salary information via Shamsports

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.