I had a feeling this situation could get a little sticky all the way back in July when I checked in with Bynum’s agent, David Lee and he said, “I know what we want, I know what the rest of the league thinks of Andrew. I just hope the Lakers are on the same page.”
That was a not so subtle indication that Lee was going to pursue a max contract for his young client and was going to be disappointed if it didn’t get done before the season began. Still, Lee said he understood the club’s position that it wanted to see Bynum in training camp and evaluate his recovery from the knee injury which ended his season last January.
OK, so here we are in mid-October, midway through training camp and two weeks until the October 31 deadline to get the contract extension done. If it’s not done by then, Bynum becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season. At which point, the club would likely make him a one-year qualifying offer, which he has the option of accepting or declining. If he accepts it, he would then become an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-10 season. If he declines it, he has the right to sign an offer sheet with any other club but the Lakers would also have the right to match that offer.
So here are the questions that must be answered:
1. Have the Lakers seen enough from Bynum in training camp to feel confident in the health of his knee?
2. Have the Lakers seen enough from Bynum in his three seasons with the club to sign him to a maximum contract over five years between $83 and $88 million depending on how much the salary cap increases?
3. Would Bynum risk playing this season without an extension?
4. Would Bynum risk playing two seasons without a long-term extension in the hopes of becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010?
There are three other dynamics you have to consider:
1. The Lakers have invested heavily in Bynum and would like to see him continue to develop into a franchise cornerstone.
2. Lamar Odom is an unrestricted free agent after this season. And Kobe Bryant has the right to opt out of his contract at the end of his season, meaning he could command another huge payday if he were to subsequently re-up with the Lakers. Whatever the Lakers do with Bynum also affects what they will do with Odom, and to a lesser extent with Bryant.
3. Just about every team in the league is trying to clear enough cap space for the summer of 2010, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will all be free agents. If Bynum takes the risk of playing two seasons without the longterm extension, there could be a number of teams with the cap space in that summer to make him a maximum offer. And for a team that misses out on Bosh, James or Wade, wouldn’t Bynum make a nice consolation prize?
The last thing that factors in is really pretty intangible and hard to quantify. But there are some franchises in the NBA known for “taking care of their guys” and the Lakers are generally one of them. For another example, think Washington with Gilbert Arenas last summer, where the Wizards gave Agent Zero a max deal (which he then was asked to reduce a bit so the team could sign some other players too) even though he was coming off knee surgery. It was the ultimate sign of respect, and you’d be surprised how much weight that can carry with an NBA player, particularly one who fancies himself a superstar. Anyone remember Elton Brand and his early termination option (ETO)?
In today’s stories about the situation, several times David Lee is quoted talking about the loyalty Bynum has showed, about respect, and things of that nature.
It should be pointed out that there’s a huge difference between Bynum and Gilbert Arenas. Bynum, as Phil Jackson correctly pointed out in his preseason media gathering, has had three great months in the NBA. Arenas is a perennial All-Star. Then again, Bynum is a 7-foot tall center with soft hands, great athleticism, a growing maturity and a ridiculous 7-foot-6 wingspan for blocking shots and there aren’t very many of those guys floating around the NBA.
So basically, it’s complicated. That’s about as succinctly as it can be summed up. And because of that, and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak’s deliberate style (deliberate doesn’t mean bad, just deliberate), I’d say the most likely resolution to all this will also be complicated, deliberate and take just about all of the two weeks remaining to get this done. But one way or another, here’s guessing Bynum is in purple and gold for a very long time.