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Andrew Bynum: As Important To the Lakers Now As He Is in the Future

Andrew Ungvari@DrewUngaSenior Writer INovember 19, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over David Andersen #13 of the Houston Rockets on November 15, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Rockets won 101-91.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Don't get it twisted. Believe what you want about Kobe's infamous "Parking Lot Video" from 2007 but Kobe never really wanted Andrew Bynum traded.

Well, he didn't exactly want Bynum traded.

Go back and watch the video again. It's still easy to find. Go ahead. Watch it. Listen to what Kobe says.

Does Kobe say "Ship his ass out!?" Of course he does. But pay attention to the context in which he says it. Listen to what Kobe says immediately after. He says "We're talking about Jason Kidd."

The Orange County dorks who recorded the video (and unsuccessfully tried to sell it) ask Kobe about why the Lakers didn't get Jason Kidd. It is only when they mention that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was reluctant to part with the then-19-year-old Bynum for Kidd is when Kobe is perceived to have thrown Bynum under the bus.

It's not that Kobe didn't think that Bynum had the potential to be a great player one day. It's that Kobe didn't want to wait for that day to come. He wanted to win immediately.

Don't forget the video was taken in May—when Bryant was usually too busy practicing for an upcoming playoff game and didn't have the time to hang out at the Newport Coast Shopping Center getting interviewed by street "journalists." It was the third consecutive May when Bryant was home for the summer.

What the "Kobe Video Guys" and Bryant himself didn't understand was that Kidd was making more than $20 million that season and Bynum alone, because he was still playing on a rookie contract, wouldn't have enabled the deal to happen.

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The Lakers would have had to include both Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown in order for the salaries to match up. So it's not as if Kupchak passed on Bynum-for-Kidd so much as hesitate to hand over his entire frontcourt for a passed-his-prime point guard.

According to Sports Illustrated's Arash Markazi, "The Kobe Video Guys" say that Bryant went on to say, "How good do you think Andrew Bynum is going to be in 10 years? Are you f---ing kidding me? I'm trying to win this s--- now."

But all that is besides the point.

The point is that Bryant never said anything about Bynum's game or what he felt Bynum's potential was. 

It's not that Bynum had much to do with the Lakers championship run last year since he was still trying to recover from an MCL tear in his knee.

Bynum had even less to do with the Lakers trip to the Finals in 2008 when he missed more than half the season, including the playoffs, after suffering a subluxation to his other knee.

The Lakers formula for success in each of these last two seasons could be described as "youthful yet experienced." The 2008 team that lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals had one player on the team over the age of 30—Derek Fisher.

The team that won the title last season had only two players in their 30s and one of them was Bryant who had just reached 30 the previous August.

This current season is only a few weeks old and already two more Lakers have hit 30—Lamar Odom and newcomer Ron Artest.

A third, Pau Gasol, will turn 30 soon after the conclusion of this NBA season.

Gasol might have played in more basketball games since 2007 than anyone else on the planet. Between two runs to the NBA Finals, the Beijing Olympics, and last summer's EuroBasket Championships in Poland, I dare you to tell me who else even came close.

You could make the case that the size of the Lakers window of opportunity to compete for an NBA title is dependent on the 22-year-old Bynum and how much of a load he's willing to carry going forward.

As Kobe Bryant approaches his mid-30s, will he be willing to cede power to Bynum as he expected of Shaq back in 2004? He may not have a choice if he wants to continue collecting rings.

The biggest shame to come from Bynum's knee injuries over the last two seasons was that both came in January when Bynum was playing the best basketball of his career.

In 2007, Bynum had gotten off to a slow start but seemed to have turned a corner just before the new year. From Dec. 9 up until he suffered the injury on Jan. 13, Bynum was averaging close to 16.5 points and 10.75 rebounds per game.

From Jan. 7 until he suffered his second knee injury on Jan. 31, he was averaging close to 21 PPG and 9 RPG—including a career-high 42-point game.

While some might call Bynum injury-prone, it's really more a case of bad luck and unpreparedness. Someone with a chronically bad back or genetically bad feet is injury-prone whereas having teammates fall on your knee in back-to-back seasons is really just horrible luck.

Had Bynum bent his knees in both instances he probably wouldn't have injured either of his knees to the extent in which he did. 

Since Gasol was forced to shoulder much of the load in the frontcourt for most of the last two regular seasons it's only right that Bynum returned the favor while Gasol missed the first 11 games of this season due to hamstring issues.

Just how good has Bynum been in Gasol's absence?

He is one of only two players in the NBA averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. The other is Chris Bosh—considered to be the third-biggest prize on this summer's free agent market.

Bynum also trails Bosh by one for the league lead in double-doubles this season, despite playing in two fewer games.

Considering that Bynum is only 22, it isn't inconceivable to see Bynum as a Laker for the next 15 seasons. He should still be around long after Fisher, Bryant, Gasol, Artest, and Lamar Odom are retired.

Bynum represents the bridge from these Lakers to the team's next generation. It is his potential, realized or unrealized, that will chart the course for how much rebuilding the Lakers will require once those other guys are gone.

Had Bynum attended UCONN for four years, instead of jumping to the NBA out of high school, he'd be a rookie right now. Instead he's in his fifth season and no longer looks like a man-child but like a man.

In an era where power forwards like Chuck Hayes, Drew Gooden, and Al Horford are playing center, Bynum should have no problem following in the footsteps of past great Lakers centers as George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal—all of whom led the Lakers to NBA championships and all but Mikan won at least one Finals MVP award.

Mikan's playing career ended in 1956 and the first Finals MVP Award was handed out in 1969. With career playoff averages of 24 points and 14 rebounds per game, he surely would have won at least one. 

Of course the big question mark concerning Bynum is how well he and Gasol can coexist. Gasol was acquired by the Lakers after Bynum's first knee injury and the two have only played together in 73 combined regular season and playoff games—many of which came with Bynum recovering from both knee injuries.

Bynum is under contract for two more guaranteed years after this one and the Lakers have a team option for a third year in 2012-13 that they'll surely exercise should he stay healthy.

You can bet that Bynum's agent, David Lee, will allow his client to test the free agent market after experiencing testy negotiations with the Lakers over Bynum's current contract as well as failed negotiations last summer with Trevor Ariza, another of Lee's clients.

Until then, Bynum seems like he's on his way to his first All-Star appearance. With Shaq back in the Eastern Conference and Yao Ming out for the year, it seems as if his stiffest competition to get to Dallas will come from the Clippers' Chris Kaman.

Unlike in his previous four seasons, Bynum doesn't seem paranoid of referees blowing their whistles every time he makes the slightest bit of contact—something Blazers fans are seeing with Greg Oden right now.

Healthy, experienced, care-free, and involved, Andrew Bynum seems as if he's finally on his way.

Having won a fourth championship last June and steadily approaching 1,200 career games played, Kobe knows he's got a partner for the rest of his career in the young seven-footer.

Just imagine how he feels about him now.

Andrew Ungvari is a senior writer and featured columnist for Bleacher Report as well as co-lead blogger for the basketball website, SirCharlesInCharge.com  .

For up to the minute news on all things basketball and occasionally brilliant thoughts and observations, follow him on Twitter  .

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