NBA Rumors: Why LA Lakers Must Think Twice Before Extending Andrew Bynum

Howard RubenContributor IApril 26, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers turns to the basket in front of Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on April 17, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Andrew Bynum may just be the best center in the NBA.  But is that enough for Lakers management to make him the face of the franchise for the next decade?

I know, it sounds crazy.  How can you argue with Bynum the player?

He's a first-time All-Star who has finally arrived as a force on both ends of the court.  He's averaging career highs of 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes per game.  He's been on fire since the break and is averaging 21 points over his last 10 games.

Nearing the end of his sixth season in the league, the 7'0", 285-pound Lakers center is, at 24, a dominant force and poised to become the next franchise player for L.A. after Kobe Bryant hangs up his sneakers.

There is no denying how good Bynum has become. Add to the impressive stats the fact that he has been injury free all year and in the best shape of his career.

Bynum has worked extremely hard to get to this point and as the Lakers prepare for the first round of the playoffs, he is an integral part of the team's title run and its most important asset next to Kobe.

So, why on earth might the Lakers even consider not signing Bynum to a long-term contract after recently saying they would pick up the $16.47 million option on his contract for 2012-13?

Unless you've been under a rock and haven't noticed, Bynum's attitude this year has been nothing short of erratic.  Lakers beat writer Ramona Shelburne of took note of that in a recent column when she wrote:

These should be the best of days for Bynum.  Endorsement deals should be flooding in. He should be the talk of the town. Celebrities should be clamoring to meet him. His phone, the one he so carelessly left exposed in the locker room the other night, should be blowing up with texts and calls from well-wishers and sycophants.

But instead of basking in the glory, Bynum is chafing at it. Rebelling against it and everything else that feels warm and fuzzy. Advice goes unheeded. Suggestions are scoffed at or ignored.

His public demeanor is salty where it once had been innocent and sweet. His behavior on the court and off of it has been bizarre and brash.

We've seen Bynum laughing on the bench after being benched by his coach.  He was ejected twice in 10 days this spring against the same team (Houston). 

And yesterday, when commenting to L.A. Times reporter Mike Bresnahan on Ron Artest's elbow assault of the Thunder's James Harden, he said he could relate to MWP's seven-game suspension. 
"It was a wild play [Sunday].  I've been a victim of that and I lost [some] games."

Andrew Bynum is testing his employers.  He's a smart guy and knows how much he means to the Lakers. Is this crazy behavior just a sign of immaturity? 

How about irrational and just plain dumb? What's a team to do?

There are no sure things in the world of professional basketball just as there are no sure things in life.  It would be a much easier decision if Bynum hadn't clotheslined Barrea or been videotaped parking his car in handicap spaces or taking ill-advised three-point shots or standing 10 feet away from player huddles during timeouts.

Mike Brown and Mitch Kupchak see this behavior as unacceptable but also understand that this is a young man who is new to the world of elite status superstars. They are going to take that risk, I believe, and try to sign Bynum to a long-term max contract.

"He's in a process where he's learning and he's growing," Brown told's Dave McMenamin "That's one area he's got to continue to try to figure out and navigate through and hopefully at the end of the day it will make him a better player.

If the Lakers decide to offer Bynum a long-term contract, they need to know that there probably will be more of the same odd behavior that we've seen this year.  There will be times when he plays like an All-Star and times when he's moody, distant and lackadaisical.

The Lakers must decide if they want to keep paying millions of dollars to one of the NBA's emerging stars, knowing that there's a fine line with him between passionate play on the court and ridiculous behavior off it.

As Bynum told Shelburne, when asked about his ejections and about playing with the right mindset:

To be in the zone, as they call it, it has a lot to do with anger and a lot to do with focus.  You have to find the midpoint. You have to use anger to motivate yourself, but you don't want to let it go so far that you get kicked out. I let that happen a few times, but it's just part of the maturing process.

Let's hope that "process" is actually progressing.