PHILADELPHIA — Below is an excerpt of a recent conversation I had with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak about Andrew Bynum’s seven-year career with the Lakers. The Lakers traded him this offseason to the Phialdelphia 76ers in a four-team, 12-player deal that resulted in the acquisition of Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. The Lakers visit (10-14) the Sixers (12-11) tonight at Wells Fargo Center.
What’s your top highlight when you reflect on Andrew Bynum’s seven-year career with the Lakers (2005-2012)?
We drafted him at 17 years old. He did not play much as a rookie. I think it was his rookie year when we played Miami. I think there was a play where Shaquille O’Neal dunked on him. That very next play down the court, Andrew got up. He was knocked down. On the very next play, he posted up Shaquille and he wheeled around and dunked on him. This I believe he had just turned 18 years old. He ran back so fast and he was pumping his hands so hard and quick into the air that he got a technical foul. That to me showed this kid is competitive and the body of work before his 18th birthday was if you’re a basketball person pretty complete. But his body was not. A person that large and his arms that long, great hands and very bright kid. If he was competitive and you have those kind of tools, you know you can get better and make an impact in this league. I would say I was most surprised as anybody that he would make the All-Star team and be labeled the second best center in the league.
What was the thought process behind drafting him?
In general, the worst place you want to be is be in the middle between 10 and 20. It means you had a bad year, but you don’t’ have a chance to get one of the top two or three players coming out of college. You’re kind of stuck in that mid lottery range. Historically, unless you’re really good or really lucky, you’re probably going to get a better who might not be a starter in the league. There’s a good chance he will be out of the league in two or three years. That’s just the nature of the business. So for us, we just thought it was a chance to get an extraordinary talent that I believe was the 10th pick that might not be there a year or two down the road. If he had gone to Connecticut and played a year or two, he might have been a top 1 or 2 pick in the draft. That was management’s take on it. Ownership never hesitated to gamble and to roll the dice. They were completely supportive in drafting a 17-year old kid at No. 10.
How did he grow as a player?
We were working with him everyday up close and got to know him as a person. Being around the team for so many years, there’s not many guys like that who come through the door very often. They’re few and far between. They’re hard to come by, true centers at that size with that skillset with his hands and his intelligence and length. You don’t see that very often. You really don’t. You’re always going to hesitate to give up a special talent.
When you’re evaluating his talent and potential, how did that always trumpet any concerns regarding his injury history?
With Andrew, his injury history is documented. Most of it had nothing to do with him as a makeup. One time he got hit on the side and the other time somebody stepped on his foot. Two of those things were freak type injuries. But last year he played every game for us. He missed one game with another and missed a couple with suspension. He had a great year. Our thoughts going into the offseason is there is only one guy that we will trade him for. We felt we had the second best center in the league. But if we had the chance to get the best, then that’s what we would do.
As much as you’ve said this offseason that you traded Andrew to get Dwight Howard because of skill level, is there any sense that the Lakers dodged a bullet considering Andrew hasn’t played at all in Philadelphia?
I don’t know what happened between the end of last year and today. As you know, he played every game for us last year and had a great year and had big minutes. I don’t know what happened over the summer. I really don’t. I haven’t seen Andrew since the last game of the season. I don’t know what took place between the end of the season and December.
Andrew had spent a lot of time in his exit interview talking with you and Mike Brown about some of his maturity issues, including his inconsistent effort and poor behavior. How much of a concern was that for you?
“I was never concerned with those few. I know the three-point shot, I don’t know whatever else it was. I thought that was something he’d get over. That was not a big concern of mine.”
He also blew off a meeting with you, among other things…
He’s not the first person to do that. He was fined and there will be another person down the road that will get fined too.
How much do you sense Andrew’s breakout season last year helped tilt the balance in ensuring the Howard trade?
I don’t know. Quite frankly, I wasn’t part of the deal. Our deal was with Orlando. Orlando found a partner in Philadelphia that really had nothing to do with me. I didn’t get brought into the loop until Philadelphia already agreed to do the deal. I didn’t find Philadelphia. Orlando did.
What did Andrew’s performance in the 2010 NBA playoffs where he fought through an injured knee do for your impressions of him?
It just cemented our feelings that he was an elite center. As it turns out, I would say he was the second best center in the league. Dwight went down [because of a back injury]. So for the second half of the season, he may be considered the best center.
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