As expected, the Lakers exercised their $16 million team option on Andrew Bynum, keeping the enigmatic center around for at least part of the 2012-13 season. But what after that? Will Bynum be wearing purple and gold for the rest of his career?
Will the Lakers sign Andrew Bynum to a max contract? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
Like every off-season, especially one fraught with so much discontent, the Lakers find themselves at ground zero of the rumor mill. Apparently, Bynum will be traded for Dwight Howard, or Pau Gasol for Deron Williams. All of the predictions, speculation, and hearsay amounts to one big steaming pile of Troy Murphy.
I’ll spare you the baseless conjecture and shed some light on what seems to be driving the Lakers decision making heading up to the tight salary cap restrictions of 2013-14 – money.
Understanding the type of contract Bynum will be seeking might provide a bigger picture to the Lakers long-term plans, with personnel and finances.
The new CBA’s salary cap implications won’t go into effect until the 2013-14 season when the Lakers will have committed approximately $61 million to Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace (all in the final year of their deals).
We won’t know for sure until the salary cap is released in July, but it’s not expected to change much from the $58 mark of 2011-12. Like last year, the salary was still soft ($1-for-$1 over the cap), and will get harder once the 2013-14 season starts, with an increasing penalty scale of:
$0M – 5M $1.50-for-$1
$5M – 10M $1.75-for-$1
$10M – 15M $2.50-for-$1
$15M – 20M $3.25-for-$1
As wealthy and willing to spend as the Lakers have been, I’ll bet that they’ll mind the upcoming luxury tax penalties with extreme prudence.
What is a Max Contract?
Under the new CBA, max contracts are limited to five years, and players with 7-9 years of experience (Bynum) will be eligible for a maximum of $11 million, or 30% of the cap, whichever is worth more. In this case, 30% of the current cap is $17,413,200.
We will use the current cap figure of $58 million because there is no way to project its growth four and five years in advance. However, I do expect the cap to grow in small increments.
Back to Bynum. Thirty percent of the current salary cap over five years, is approximately $87 million. That’s not a bad deal as far as the Lakers are concerned considering that they will have paid him $58 million for four years.
Based on what Bynum will earn next year ($16 million), it’s safe to say that a raise to $17.4 million is the logical next step. If you compare Bynum’s current contract of four years and $58 million with a projected max contract of five years and $87 million – it would be safe to say that the Lakers would be getting their money’s worth.
I say that because if you add a fifth year onto Bynum’s current contract for the same amount he’ll be paid for the 2012-13 season ($16 million), the total would be $74 million. That’s approximately $13-15 million less than the yearly payouts under a projected max contract.
Now if you add the first year of Bynum’s estimated max deal with the final years of Bryant and Gasol’s contracts, you have:
Let me remind you that the new luxury tax threshold will be in effect and the Lakers will pay at least $1.50 for every $1 they spend over the salary cap – which should be hovering around $60 million. In this case, the Lakers will be $5 – $10 million over, enacting a $1.75-for-$1 penalty for just these three players.
Injuries and Production
Throughout his seven-year career, Bynum has been the very definition of injury-prone. During the previous three seasons, Bynum has played in 179 of 224 games, including all 60 games last year.
He was a non-factor in both championships, and has appeared in every game of a season only twice (2006-07 and 2011-12). It is safe to assume that despite Bynum’s emergence last year as a top-tier center, the Lakers are still wary of his ability to stay healthy.
People forget that the seven-year veteran is only 24 and will turn 25 just before the 2012-13 season. If the Lakers lock him into a five-year deal, they will have him under control through the 2017-18 season when he turns 30. Providing that he stays healthy during those five years, the Lakers can enjoy the ripened fruits of his career.
And in case you forgot about how good that fruit tastes, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 35.2 minutes last year, while starting for the All-Star team and earning All-NBA Second Team honors.
The only way to prove that he’s worth a max deal is to play. Bynum will have to produce at an All-Star level next season if he wants a huge payday.
The Next Step
Will the Lakers wait to see if Bynum holds up during the 2011-12 season, or will they sign him before the season starts, knowing that they will be hard-pressed to find another center of his caliber on the open market?
With the projected max contract Bynum will fetch, there is a greater chance of the Lakers trading for Luke Walton than retaining Bryant, Gasol (who turns 32 in July), and Bynum for the 2013-14 season.
Will they trade Pau? Will they let Bynum go? Will Bynum stay healthy for an entire 82-game season? Will they amnesty World Peace or Gasol? I expect the Lakers to shop Gasol to free up cap space, while building their team around the younger and budding talent of Bynum.
Even if the Lakers trade Bynum for Howard, and Howard agrees to sign a max contract, the Lakers will be faced with the same financial conundrum.
Whichever way you slice it, the Lakers will be forced to make a financial decision based on Bynum’s long-term health and the trade market for Gasol.