May 6, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) and center Andrew Bynum (17) go after a loose ball against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of game four in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. The Lakers won 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

To Build, Or Not To Build Around Andrew Bynum

In case you’re living in the Kobe Bryant land of denial then you might not realize the Los Angeles Lakers are at the crossroads. Two straight subpar playoffs showings have all but indicated the time to rebuild is upon us. There’s no denying that.

Chris Paul wouldn’t have made this team a title contender. Neither would have Dwight Howard. There isn’t one move to be made that will give the Lakers all they need to again get back into the Larry O’Brien hunt.

So the real dilemma Mitch Kupchak is dealing with will be whether or not he can construct a future winner around Andrew Bynum.

Now before we bury KB24 let’s keep in mind that he’s got another two or three quality years left. However each of those years comes with diminishing returns. You’re not going to get a 35-year-old scoring champ capable of carrying a team on his back every night.

So again we came back to Bynum.

As long as Mamba is on the roster this will be his team. That just comes with the territory. However at some point his production won’t be so great that he’ll be able to back his words with awe-inspiring performances.

We all learned first hand what happens when Kobe sticks to his guns by gunning the Lakers in and out of close contests. Not blaming him for all the late-game failures against OKC but let’s just face the facts. That determined-to-a-fault Mamba is the one we’re going to see much more of than the former do-it-all Mamba.

Eventually Mike Brown is going to have to make a much more drastic shift towards making Bynum the hub of the offense. That slowly took shape this past season and should continue into next and the years beyond.

Of course what makes this such a gamble is…well…Bynum himself.

This is nothing like the transition from Shaq to Kobe, a changing of the guard that raised many of the same questions as the Bynum dilemma. Problem with Bynum is that you just don’t know what you’re getting each night.

One evening Drew is dominating with 30 boards. Then he’s barely even making the effort in a close-out contest. Then there are all the maturity issues, questionable comments and general disinterest that have plagued the perception of Drew.

The reality is Bynum is a hard worker that’s put in countless hours to improve each year. He’s got the best offensive post game this side of Tim Duncan, is a defensive force and is still young enough that his best days are ahead.

Then all the questions start coming in: Can he remain healthy? Will Andrew ever emerge as a leader? How much higher does his ceiling go?

Then there is yet another question that we could get an answer to in the coming months: What kind of trade value does Andrew Bynum hold?

It seems likely that Pau Gasol is done as a Laker. He was already traded once so it won’t come as a shock to see Gasol shipped out again. However if Jim Buss is willing to part with his pet project there is a good chance the Lakers can get more in return for Drew than Gasol.

Perhaps the best way to get the most of Bynum is by dealing him in order to get players and/or draft picks to help build a future winner. Maybe we’re asking too much of Bynum to become a franchise player. Not everyone with the game has the matching mentality necessary to carry an NBA franchise. If that’s then the Lakers had better recognize that sooner that later. Odds are Bynum’s trade value isn’t going to get much higher. Then again, hoping his maturity concerns will vanish overnight is wishful at best.

Kupchak and company have their biggest challenge to date in the coming months. Depending on what moves are or aren’t made will indicate which way this team is headed. Staying the course with Bynum comes with plenty of concerns but at least it’s not a situation that will require the Lakers to start from scratch…at least not yet.

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Tags: Andrew Bynum Chris Paul Dwight Howard Jim Buss Kobe Bryant Mike Brown Mitch Kupchak Pau Gasol Shaquille O'neal Tim Duncan

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