As was reported yesterday, the Lakers beat their October 31st deadline and signed Andrew Bynum to a contract extension for at least three years and $42 million dollars. The team has an option for a fourth year, one that would pay Bynum another $16 million if they so choose, which would bring the deal's total to a whopping $58 million. While this might seem like an awful lot to pay someone who has yet to prove himself over a full 82 game season, it actually appears that the Lakers made the right move here, and probably saved themselves a lot of money in the process.
If the team was in any way unsure about Bynum not being fully recovered from his knee injury, they could have simply taken a "wait and see" approach, and allowed today's deadline to pass without inking him to a deal. That would have made Bynum a restricted free agent at the end of the season though, meaning that the Lakers would have the right to match any offer that the young center would receive from another team. This, however, would have been a bad idea, especially for a team that is going to have other contracts to worry about when this season comes to an end.
Lamar Odom will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and will likely command a fairly high price on the open market. Now, there's a possibility that the Lakers might trade Odom and his expiring contract during the season to avoid having to pay him over the summer. But if they keep him, they're going to need the extra dollars that they were able to save by signing Bynum now instead of later. There's also Kobe Bryant's contract to deal with. The superstar can (and likely will) opt out of his deal after the season. Not to test free agency and play somewhere else, but simply to get himself the maximum dollars allowed under the league's collective bargaining agreement.
All Andrew Bynum would have to do is make it through the season with average numbers (something around 10 points and 10 rebounds a game), and it's pretty much guaranteed that some team out there would have offered him a max deal that would wind up in the neighborhood of 5 years and $85 million dollars. Why? Because Bynum is only 21 years old, and teams are willing to pay for athletic seven-footers that ooze with potential. The Lakers were able to lock up Bynum for three years and a commitment of just $42 million, less than half of the max they would have had to match if they waited until this summer. A summer when Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant's contract situations will both need to be addressed.
This was a smart financial decision by the Lakers. Now it's up to Bynum to make sure that all those dollars the team has committed to him end up being a wise investment.