Lakers Pick Up Bynum's Option: Looking Forward
Wanting to compete for championships while Kobe Bryant is still playing at a high level, the Lakers have routinely sold or traded their draft picks in recent years. While this strategy has undoubtedly paid dividends in the earlier years, with championships in 2009 and 2010, the front office needs to start looking towards the future at some point. At this season’s trade deadline, the Lakers did not hesitate to send their 2012 first round pick to Cleveland, netting them point guard Ramon Sessions and allowing them to dump Luke Walton’s contract and they cannot be faulted for that. However, in a follow-up deal, they effectively sold their rights to Dallas’ 2012 first round pick to Houston while alienating Derek Fisher in the process. Giving up young assets and draft picks can be beneficial if it both improves the Lakers’ chances of winning a championship and brings in possible future Lakers mainstays. The recent deal with Cleveland did just that, adding youth and athleticism while making the team better immediately. Unfortunately, the deal with Houston accomplished neither of these objectives with management mortgaging the team’s future for purely financial purposes.
The organization needs to consider when they will shift their focus entirely to the future. While Kobe Bryant leads the league in scoring, he is doing so on his most inefficient shooting percentage since his sophomore season (where he attempted, on average, less than half of this year’s field goals) and is coming off of a game where he shot 3-20 and had seven turnovers. These are things that the Lakers front office need to evaluate in determining how much longer they can compete for a championship with Bryant as their best player.
Regardless, Bryant is on the books through the 2013-2014 season and despite the excess salaries already owed to him and several other players, the Lakers need to make re-signing Bynum a top priority. Not only is Bynum the franchise’s most valuable young asset, he is one of the only young assets of a Lakers team that has continually made moves with a reckless disregard for their future. For the record, the Lakers sport just one second round pick (Chicago’s) in this year’s loaded draft. Lakers management needs to start looking beyond the closing championship window and put more of a premium on their draft picks as that is the best way to acquire young talent at a good value (on the rookie scale).
If the Lakers had played their cards right, they could have set themselves up to painlessly transition from the Kobe Bryant era to fielding a very competitive team with Andrew Bynum as their franchise player. However, the Lakers have operated for far too long with the lone goal of a championship in mind, while largely ignoring the fact that their superstar is on his last legs, and they will soon pay the price for it. This has resulted in a messy cap situation, which will likely require the Lakers to trade even more of their picks next year just to move bad contracts and clear cap space to re-sign Bynum, further hurting the team’s long-run outlook (the recent trade with Houston being the predecessor to these kinds of moves). Dr. Buss should consider himself lucky if all he has to do is open up his wallet to keep Bynum in LA, but the truth of the matter is that retaining Bynum will probably also cost the franchise several more future picks.
What do you guys think? How much longer can the Lakers compete for a championship with Kobe Bryant as their best player? Do they need to start looking more towards the post-Kobe era?