Andrew Bynum; Consolation Prize or Leading Contender?

Andrew Bynum just had a career year with the least talented version of the Lakers that has hit the hardwood over the last four seasons, will be working with Steve Nash as the facilitator of a lifetime, and will have a serviceable bench with the addition of Antawn Jamison and return of Jordan Hill (and possibly more to come). Now, more than ever, he is primed to step into his own. Despite all of this, rampant speculation that the Los Angeles Lakers are feverishly pushing to swap Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard is lurking around every corner. Seeping from every "source". While Dwight Howard may be the ultimate "end game" for the final act of the Kobe Bryant era, here are five reasons to be excited that being stuck with Andrew Bynum as the worst case scenario is just another reason the Laker fans should be ecstatic with the off-season Mitch Kupchak has put together.

1. He is coming off of a career year.

For a year where his PER (22.9) ranks second only behind Dwight Howard (24.2 PER on 20.6 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg), Andrew Bynum (18.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg) showed just how dominant he can be. Entering a season sans Lamar Odom, reigning sixth man of the year, it was difficult to envision where the lost production was going to be distributed (no offense Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts). Pau Gasol was coming off of a terrible playoff performance and whenever Kobe Bryant has the responsibility heavily placed on his shoulders, he generally turns into "I'm going to shoot us into being a contender" mode. Andrew Bynum, meanwhile, worked his way into the role beautifully, and the big man who many were hoping could become a solid third option quickly proved to be the second scoring option for the Lakers (and at times efficient enough to beg the question as to why he wasn't the first option). Only one power forward / center scored more total points (raw) than Andrew Bynum last season. Any guesses on who? No, it wasn't Dwight Howard, but teammate Pau Gasol. Pau ended the season with the most points for players qualified as playing the power forward / center position, coming in at 1129, while Bynum tallied up 1123 points. While many felt Mike Brown struggled at utilizing Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum together, clearly they were both still able to be productive when sharing the court. It was far from synchronized offensive beauty watching the two bigs lumber about the floor, but for a team that was devoid of consistent offensive talent outside of their top three (Kobe, Pau, and Andrew), they were still able to put up the highest offensive output between two bigs in the NBA. Outside of offense, Bynum was also a rebounding machine. His 11.8 rpg, partnered with his 18.7% total rebound percentage, push him into elite rebounding territory. Finally, his true shooting percentage of .594 (4th highest amongst bigs) is another indicator of just how great of a season he had for the Lakers. Andrew Bynum's 2011-2012 was a campaign that can be built upon as he begins to enter his prime. Laker fans should be celebrating a great season from Bynum.

2. He already knows how to deal with being in Los Angeles.

Andrew Bynum has grown up under the scrutiny of being a part of the Los Angeles Lakers. As a fan base, the expectations are grueling. Every year, anything short of a championship is considered a failure. Since being drafted as the youngest NBA player in history, Bynum has been to three NBA finals and captured two titles. Los Angeles is not a town for the thin skinned, and if anything, at times Bynum has proved to be TOO thick skinned (and skulled) for the pointed criticism. What he has proven is that, despite always being a hot topic in NBA trading through the off-season and as the trade deadline approaches, he is unaffected. His approach is mercurial. His personality is far from being the lovable face of a franchise ala Magic Johnson, but let's not pretend that Kobe Bryant is Mr. Rogers. Andrew Bynum hasn't gotten lost in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Perhaps being in the giant shadow cast by Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and the Lakers franchise has allowed him to digest what it means to exist under the brightest of spotlights. Likely, in the next three years, the keys to the franchise will be handed off to Andrew Bynum. It's impossible to project what the organization will consist of so far down the road, but having spent what will be close to a decade by that point with the Lakers, Bynum should be able to wade through the choppy waters and know exactly how to handle the situation. He has shown every indication that his goal is to be the most dominant big man in the league and the strides he has taken to be "that" guy have shown great results. It's only a matter of time until he gets an opportunity to be the focal point of the Lakers franchise, a universe in which he will already be attuned with.

On top of all of this, Kobe Bryant has not been known as the "easiest" teammate to work alongside, but it's an undertaking that Bynum has grown with since day one. Familiarity means a great deal for the Lakers, with only a two to three year window left with Kobe in all likelihood, and bringing in Mike Brown to replace Phil Jackson will remain the largest challenge to overcome for the franchise. And, while the X's and O's definitely have room for improvement, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol play well off of one another. Needless to say, integrating Steve Nash will be a huge change for a franchise that has had Kobe in the drivers seat for the better part of this last decade. Continuity in the roster will prove to be beneficial as Mike Brown transitions into his second year as head coach, and with a full off-season and stretched season, can be a huge boost for implementing his vision of the offense, and defense. In short, there will be less unknown factors with Andrew Bynum returning to pick up where he left off last season.

3. The Steve Nash effect.

While adding Steve Nash will give Kobe Bryant an elite ball handling point guard to play off of, no player will benefit more from adding Nash to the roster than Andrew Bynum. Derek Fisher has been running the point guard position for the Lakers throughout the majority of his career, so saying the pick and roll hasn't exactly been a successful endeavor for the Lakers is quite an understatement. Kobe Bryant has been the primary ball handler, and while at times he can be a successful facilitator, his tendency will always be to score first. Steve Nash has made a career out of making mediocre talent look like perfectly wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree, bow and all. The majority of Bynum's possessions were isolation post ups, hardly having easy buckets at his disposal. Steve Nash will not only be able to put Bynum into a successful position off of the pick and roll, but his dribble penetration and decision making will provide him with easy looks around the rim. With proper ball distribution, the offense will be more balanced, and a welcome departure from defenses being able to crowd the paint every time he touches the ball.

Not only will Nash provide Bynum with a fantastic playmaker to work with, but a perimeter threat to kick out to. One of Bynum's deficiencies is his inability (and unwillingness) to pass out of the post once the defense collapses. With Nash lingering around the arc in that scenario, Bynum will be more willing to pass the ball back out. All those screeching halts the Lakers offense came to whenever Steve Blake or Derek Fisher tried to make a play? No more. Steve Nash will know what to do with the ball, whether it's dish it back in once Bynum has superior position, call for a screen, swing the ball around, or create for himself. Andrew Bynum is an offensive threat who will flourish with Steve Nash facilitating the Lakers offense.

4. If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense.

"There's a bank in every city". The phrase has rubbed many fans the wrong way, using the quote as a sticking point to Andrew Bynum's immaturity. However, it provides a window into his mentality, and when it comes to money, no team will be able to offer Andrew Bynum more than the Los Angeles Lakers if (rather, when) an extension isn't cemented (utilizing his bird rights). Having missed ample time with knee issues, to the point of needing Synvisc-One injections in his knee as a precautionary "upkeep" procedure in the middle of the season, there's nothing more uncertain about Bynum's future than his prolonged health. The stats will be there, he is always going to have the "wow he's tall" talent, but that knee. That creaky, heavily braced, knee. Sure, he may be confident that his health will remain intact so long as he maintains his upkeep procedures, but what NBA Agent is going to suggest his client should walk away from $20 million or so more guaranteed money than what other teams can offer, let alone in a city like Los Angeles. A city that will soon be bidding Kobe Bryant farewell. He isn't a larger than life personality like Shaq, nor has he shown any inclination of wanting to be more show than substance, leaving his revenue streams limited. He won't be the genie in Kazaam 2, he won't be featured in Vitamin Water commercials with goofy disguise glasses on, and he won't be shown working out in commercials to the moniker of "Just Do It". The Los Angeles Lakers franchise, however, is Andrew Bynum's to lose. If he decides to walk away from the additional $20 million guaranteed dollars it would be shocking. If he continues to improve his game, having Andrew Bynum for the post-Kobe era will give the front office an amazing talent in the all-star center to build around. The Lakers retaining Andrew Bynum will be the inevitable conclusion should he reach free agency, there's simply more money for him to take to his bank. No matter what city the Lakers may be on the road in. The "other" scenarios for the Lakers aren't nearly as certain and will be a gamble.

5. The future.

At 24 years old, Andrew Bynum looks prepared to step into the limelight. Last off-season, the Lakers attempted to acquire Chris Paul to partner with Andrew Bynum. Together, they could have lead the Lakers in a post-Kobe era. Jim Buss has faith in his center, and for what may be the first time in his career, many Laker fans have also turned to a new page on Andrew Bynum. There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out, but for all of the noise surrounding Bynum, his positives undobutedly outweigh his negatives. Having a point guard who will have the ability to create for him will be a breath of fresh air after fighting through doubles for so many of his points in the post. So long as his knee holds up, Andrew Bynum's future couldn't be brighter. While perhaps being shipped off to Cleveland, Houston, or Orlando may provide an opportunity to dial up his field goal attempts from the 13.3 he averaged with Los Angeles through the 2011-2012 season, they would also give him a much less talented roster to work with. A player that struggles dealing with double teams will have just a wonderful time when the second best player on the roster is Jameer Nelson. The Lakers have always provided a safety net of talent around Bynum as he's learned the NBA game, and it has finally begun to pay off. Having invested as much into Andrew Bynum as the Lakers have will yield a rich return. The opportunity of playing with one of the most skilled big men in the league in Pau, one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball in Kobe, and now have the chance to learn the two man game with Steve Nash, Andrew Bynum will be groomed for greatness once it becomes his time to steer the purple and gold Ferrari.

What he lacks in his game, currently, is all very teachable. Last season was the first year in which teams constantly sent defenders in flocks at him, he will learn how to handle those situations. He will be more inclined to pass out of the post with a stronger roster around the perimeter for him, not feeling as if he himself must try to dance around three defenders in order to keep the offense moving. Mike Brown will have the ability to fully implement the offense, and have a floor general in Steve Nash in order to keep it flowing. Bynum has yet to reach his full potential, last season expanding his post game and finding ways to score. Once he refines his fundamentals and hones in on a handful of post moves, the teenager who was grinded down to trade fodder by Kobe will be a perennial all-star for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yes, things have never been on a more upswing for Andrew Bynum. He knows it, the Lakers know it, and the NBA knows it. Hopefully the fans haven't forgotten.


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