The news is probably more significant that the Lakers exercised the fourth-year option in Sasha Vujacic’s contract than that they exercised the third-year option in Andrew Bynum’s contract. When it happens on Bynum’s 19th birthday, however, the story’s going to be written a little differently.
It’s a nice vote of confidence for Vujacic, who endured a terrible rookie season in which he played in only 35 games, made barely a quarter of his shots and struggled to prove himself to coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke positively about Vujacic’s size, his outside shot and his ability to be a pesky defender. Where Vujacic has to improve, Kupchak said, is in continuing to get stronger in the weight room and making himself more of a threat to drive to the basket on offense.
By Ross Siler
The timing was too perfect for Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak not to surprise center Andrew Bynum on his 19th birthday Friday with the news that the team would exercise the option in Bynums contract for the 2007-08 season.
Even though the Lakers took the day off, Kupchak had Bynum stop by his office at the teams practice facility, where he presented the contract paperwork along with a cupcake as a group gathered for the singing of “Happy Birthday.
“Its a good birthday present, Kupchak said, “and definitely something he earned.
The Lakers normally would have waited until Tuesdays deadline to exercise the option, but Kupchak said the decision was made weeks ago. The Lakers also exercised the 2007-08 option in guard Sasha Vujacics contract Friday.
“It was a good day for them, Kupchak said. “They both seemed appreciative.
Bynum was part of the NBAs first draft class to have only the first two years of their rookie contracts guaranteed. He will make $2.17 million next season, with the Lakers holding another option for the 2008-09 season.
For his part, Vujacic had his hard work over the summer rewarded. Instead of playing for Slovenia in the world championships, Vujacic opted to work out at the Lakers facility and stay in close contact with the team.
He reported to training camp with a more muscular build and was one of the Lakers best guards during the preseason. Vujacic averaged 10.8 points and connected on 21 of 42 shots in five games.
“My goal coming to the Lakers was to become a starting point guard one day for them, Vujacic said. “Im going to continue working hard, do what I am asked to do, follow the coaches instructions and try to get better.
Vujacic, who wont turn 23 until March 7, will make $1.75 million next season. If the Lakers dont sign him to a contract extension after this season, Vujacic would become a restricted free agent in July 2008.
Bynum, meanwhile, is expected to start at Tuesdays opener as a result of injuries to Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm.
He had more turnovers (four) than points (two) in the Lakers first exhibition game Oct. 10 in Fresno but finished the preseason by totaling 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists Thursday against Denver.
“My opinion about Andrew has not wavered at all, Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis said after the game. “I think Andrew is going to be a terrific ballplayer in this league.
“It still may take a couple, three years, but I think down the road, the Lakers have a real fine player on their hands because he likes to play at both ends of the court.
The Lakers have asked Bynum to run the floor hard and post up early in possessions. He also has shot free throws with greater confidence than his rookie season, making 17 of 22 (77.3 percent) this month.
As for his birthday plans, Bynum said he was considering staying home and getting some sleep.
Injury update: Kobe Bryant was at the Lakers facility Friday to receive treatment on his right knee. He took a couple of jumpers but will continue to be listed as questionable to doubtful for Tuesdays game against Phoenix.
One concern for both Bryant and Phil Jackson is the prospect of Wednesdays game at Golden State. Bryant does not want to play with limitations in the second of back-to-back games while Jackson is not yet sure if he can travel after hip-replacement surgery.