4. Roster depth/bench quality
After Kobe Bryant—who's playing 38+ minutes per game—the Lakers have Derek Fisher (a 35-year-old in a walk year), Sasha Vujacic (a complete disappointment who is averaging 8 minutes per game and owed $5.4 million next year), Jordan Farmar (a seldom-used point guard who shoots more than he passes—and he's a poor shooter) and Shannon Brown (a limited energy guy who has become a fan favorite due to his explosive dunks).
What if Kobe's broken finger gets worse? What about next season? Kobe can't keep playing 40 minutes per game much longer. The Lakers need a Devin Harris or Caron Butler or Jamal Crawford-type of combo guard to take the pressure off Kobe and upgrade a weak bench. This is their Achilles heal, not their frontcourt.
3. Injury history
Bynum is injury-prone and has played in only 61 percent (125 out of 206) of Lakers games the past two and a half seasons due to knee problems. There is absolutely no injury scarier and more devastating to an athlete than one involving a knee. Already this season we have seen Greg Oden, Blake Griffin, and Michael Redd go down for the count thanks to recurring knee injuries.
Redd's career could be over, and Oden isn't too far off from joining him. It's not like Bynum is an aging veteran playing 36 minutes per game. He's a kid who has averaged 28 minutes per game the past four seasons. And he can't stay healthy?
Mitch Kupchak has to be worried. Wouldn't you be?
2. Window of opportunity
Let's be honest here: This is Kobe's team.
Kobe turns 32 this year and while that may not seem old, consider he started in the NBA 14 years ago and has logged nearly 1,000 games and 36,000+ minutes since. Other players in that realm of usage include: Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Michael Finley, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Juwan Howard, and Tim Duncan. How many of these guys are still playing at a peak level? None.
It may not seem like Kobe has lost a step—thanks to the gaudy numbers he continues to put up—but he has undoubtedly begun his decline. Thus, the Lakers are designed to win now—why else do you think both Lamar Odom and Ron Artest signed on for well below market value?
Realistically, the Lakers have this season and the next two to contend and then the dismantling/rebuilding begins. Three years from now, Bynum will still only be 25 and developing. Sure, if he holds up, it would great to have him as a building block in 2013, but the Lakers need the help NOW.
Ask yourself this: Come 2013 when Kobe and Pau Gasol are no longer top dogs, do you want a 25-year-old Bynum leading the team or an in-his-prime Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Al Jefferson, or Andrew Bogut?
1. Money, money, money
The Lakers currently have the highest payroll in the league at approximately $91 million. Because they're significantly over the salary cap and the luxury tax level, they will have to pay an additional $21 million to the league.
Their estimated $83+ million payroll for next season is certainly going to rise with Kobe's pending extension; it might even reach $100 million, which means a $30+ million luxury tax penalty. They're in the same boat for 2011-2012.
Now, along with the New York Knicks, the Lakers are the richest club in the NBA and can afford the luxury tax without much issue. However, the problem lies with the salary cap; where it is now does not afford them much flexibility when it comes to player personnel.
Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum alone will make close to $60 million next season, which is about $6 million over the salary cap and more than some teams' entire payrolls. This means two things: One, the bench is very thin. Two, an injury to one of these players would cripple their title hopes.
If Bynum, who is owed $29 million over the next two seasons, gets hurt, the Lakers lack the financial flexibility to maneuver around the situation. Think Allan Houston with the Knicks—he got hurt and the team couldn't move him and his mega-contract because they were $70+ million over the cap. As a result, the Knicks were stuck and screwed.
That would be the situation in L.A. if one of these guys got hurt. With Gasol locked up through 2014 and Odom through 2012, it would make more sense for the Lakers to spend Bynum's $14.5 million per season on two quality players who fill needs. This way, if something goes awry, the Lakers will have the depth and flexibility to deal with it better.
Let's look at a scenario.
Current Lakers rotation (and anticipated for next season):
*averages based on 36 minutes played.
C: Bynum 17.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks.
PG: Fisher 9.5 points, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 threes.
8M: Farmar 14.3 points, 3.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.9 threes.
If the Lakers traded, say, Bynum and Vujacic for Devin Harris, Keyon Dooling, and Josh Boone, their roster would look like this:
PF: Boone 8.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks.
PG: Harris 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 1 three.
7M: Dooling 14 points, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 2.3 threes.
Which lineup would you prefer? Clearly, the second one is more balanced and dynamic, not to mention faster and cheaper.
Lastly, I'd like to address the rumors involving a Bynum-for-Bosh trade. Forget it; it's not happening.
I don't even understand how some of these ridiculous rumors start. Bosh has a huge payday coming to him, probably in the neighborhood of six years and $100 million. How in the world could the Lakers afford that, along with Kobe making $30 million per and Gasol making $18 million per?
Yes, technically, the Lakers could swap Bynum for Bosh, but without a sign-and-trade, the Lakers run the risk of losing Bosh at season's end for nothing. And with a sign-and-trade, more players would have to be involved, and the Lakers payroll would easily exceed $100 million for the next few seasons.
It's just not realistic. The only way this deal could happen is if Bosh or Kobe takes a significant pay cut for the sake of a title run. That's not happening.
It may not happen by the Feb. 18 trade deadline, but make no mistake, the writing is on the wall. For as talented as he is, Bynum is the wrong fit for this Lakers squad considering his young age, position, learning curve, injury history and hefty price tag. The Lakers need him in five years, not now.