The Lakers officially picked up Andrew Bynum’s $16.1-million option, a formality for a player who finally tapped into the potential that had loomed above him throughout his career.
How long he’s with the Lakers beyond that becomes the question.
Bynum, 24, will be in the last season of a four-year, $57.2-million contract. Negotiations on an extension had not begun, though that could happen soon. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Lakers, he will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.
Either way, Bynum remains one of the Lakers’ two tradable assets.
They’d rather deal Pau Gasol, but his contract has two more years and $38 million left, heavy money for a player who averaged only 12.5 points in the playoffs and shot 43%.
Kobe Bryant is due $58.3 million over the next two seasons and has a no-trade clause, making it difficult to deal him. And that wouldn’t even take into account the public-relations repercussions the Lakers would experience by trading one of their most popular players ever.
This season was a big one for Bynum. He sat out the first four games, suspended for having body-slammed diminutive guard Jose Barea in last season’s playoffs, a move that cost him $436,000 in forfeited salary.
He went on to post career highs in points (18.7 a game) and rebounds (11.8) while passing Gasol, a four-time All-Star, as the Lakers’ second option behind Bryant. Bynum was chosen second-team All-NBA at center behind Orlando’s Dwight Howard.
Bynum had plenty of ill-conceived moments this season, including a well-documented three-point attempt in the third quarter of a close game at Golden State in March. He was yanked from the game and said afterward it wouldn’t stop him from taking more three-point shots. (He didn’t.)
The Lakers fined him about $7,500 for his actions stemming from that game.
About a week later, Bynum didn’t take part in team huddles during timeouts in a game against undermanned New Orleans because he said he was resting and “getting my Zen on.”
He wasn’t fined for that one, but the NBA hit him for $15,000 for failing to talk to reporters after a practice during the Western Conference semifinals.
Not surprisingly, Bynum was told in his postseason exit meeting with General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike Brown that he needed to stay mentally strong throughout the entire season and try to make an impact every game.
Bynum’s on-court play, however, elevated substantially this season. He missed only one game because of injury, an impressive stat for a player who had logged a full season only once in his first six years, missing large swaths of time in the past because of knee problems.
Despite the Lakers’ second-round playoff exit, Bynum thought he would still be with the team when training camp starts.
“I don’t expect to hear my name as a possible trade, but I think anything can happen,” he said. “Obviously, I want to be a Laker. . . .”
The Lakers had until June 30 to exercise their option on Bynum. Kupchak had been planning to do it for months, if not longer.
“He’s the starting center on the West All-Star team. Why wouldn’t we do everything we could to keep him here?” Kupchak told The Times in March. “We’re ecstatic to have him on the team.”