The Lakers announced Monday they've officially exercised their team option on Andrew Bynum's contract for the 2012-13 season.
He'll make about $16.1 million next year.
The news will surprise nobody, since the Lakers said weeks ago they'd be doing it. Questions about Bynum's attitude, effort, and maturity notwithstanding, even if he had TP'd Mitch Kupchak's office and keyed Dr. Buss' car on the way out of his exit interview, the Lakers wouldn't let Bynum waltz into unrestricted free agency this summer.
Still, he'll remain at the center (ha!) of a healthy portion of Lakers-related intrigue in the offseason. Bynum is the only player on the roster capable of fetching a truly elite player in any trade. Pau Gasol still has value, but nearly 32 years old and owed almost $40 million over the next two seasons, it's hard to see a scenario in which another team sacrifices young, primetime chip. The Dwight Howard whispers likely won't stop, nor the intrigue surrounding Deron Williams. Other big names will likely pop up in rumors, and any linked to the Lakers will by definition be linked Bynum. There are certainly those believing the team might be better primed for a short term run by flipping Bynum for an elite PG (for example) and keeping Gasol around with Kobe Bryant.
Of course, the Lakers can choose to build around Bynum, too, evidenced by the 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks he averaged this year. Big numbers, and at 24 still has room to improve. Players like him -- capable of controlling games on both sides of the floor -- don't come around often, particularly on the block. He is a prodigious talent, and already a very productive player. Concerns about Bynum have little to do with his skills.
It'll be pretty fascinating to see how the Lakers proceed. They could trade him, or look to find common ground on a contract extension. Or both. Clarity in one direction or another would likely be welcome, because I can't imagine the Lakers relish the potential circus of Bynum coming into camp next season in a walk year. Still, given their payroll issues under the new CBA, the Lakers might value Bynum next year as both a top tier trade chip and a valuable expiring contract.
Either trait could come in handy.
Bottom line, this is one step in a story that could evolve in any number of directions.