Andrew Bynum key to Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers didn't land Dwight Howard, but that doesn't mean they won't have an All-Star center next season.

General manager Mitch Kupchak reportedly said that the team will pick up Andrew Bynum's option for next season.

"He's the starting center on the West All-Star team. Why wouldn't we do everything we could to keep him here?" Kupchak said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We're ecstatic to have him on the team."

The Lakers must exercise the center's $16.1 million option by June 30. Bynum will then be a free agent after the 2012-13 season, at the same time Howard is set to become a free agent after deciding not to opt out of his contract this summer.

The Lakers could prevent Bynum from hitting the free-agent market after next season, however, by negotiating a contract extension with the 7-footer beforehand. Bynum sounds amenable to opening up long-term contract talks.

"I want to sign," Bynum told ESPNLosAngeles.com following the Lakers' shootaround in Houston on Tuesday. "I want to be a Laker."

Bynum's agent, David Lee, said that Lakers management controls if and when those talks will occur.

"Their call," Lee said in a text message to ESPNLosAngeles.com. "Ball's in their court."

Bynum's name has been linked to Howard's since the Magic center said that he would like to play for the Lakers. The only real trade scenario that made sense involved Bynum.

But all the talk hasn't seemed to affect the 24-year-old Bynum. He's averaging career bests of 18.1 points and 12.9 rebounds per game and made his first All-Star team. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 27.5 points, 14.8 rebounds and shooting 66.5 percent from the field.

Bynum also has played in 41 of 45 Lakers games after struggling to stay on the court due to injuries in recent years. The only games he missed were because of a four-game suspension to start the season for his hit on J.J. Barea in the playoffs last May.

Kobe Bryant, who once pined for Bynum to be traded for Jason Kidd, seemed pleased with the franchise's reported decision to exercise Bynum's option this time around.

"I think it's great," Bryant told reporters Tuesday after shootaround. "It's well deserved, obviously."

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin was used in this report.