- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- If the Lakers are going to keep blasting teams out of Staples Center the way they have the first two nights of the season, we'll have to find intrigue wherever we can. In the case of their 117-79 demolition of the Clippers on Wednesday, the case at hand was whether Andrew Bynum's 12 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots are worth, say, $14 million per year.
While it looks like the Lakers are off to the races, having also dispatched Portland by 20 points, Bynum's extension talks are coming down to the wire. Players under their rookie scale contract, as Bynum is, have until Friday to sign an extension. Otherwise Bynum can become a restricted free agent next summer. After a period of limited progress, one source familiar with the negotiations said the Lakers and Bynum are close to agreement on a three-year contract extension worth approximately $42 million.
As one NBA executive put it, "The clock brings things into focus."
For the Lakers, the desire to lock up a player who has shown the potential to join the small fraternity of elite big men in the NBA has been tempered by the small sample pool of games in which Bynum has actually performed well. He was used sparingly as a rookie, his production dropped off after a solid start to his second season, then his breakout third year was cut short by a knee injury in January. Bynum is averaging 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in his career.
The proposed contract -- which has a fourth-year team option that would take the total value to $58 million -- would give Bynum the maximum annual salary but limit the Lakers' long-term liability if Bynum's career does not continue its upward arc. The longest and largest extension Bynum could sign would be five years and approximately $85 million.
The job description really isn't too demanding. Score a dozen or so points. Grab 9 or 10 rebounds. Oh, and be 7 feet tall. Bynum can do those things.
He didn't in the season opener, when he missed 6 of 10 shots, scored 8 points and grabbed 3 rebounds, when nerves and the hype of a matchup against Greg Oden made him go too fast and try too hard.
He contributed in a variety of ways Wednesday: Blocking a Tim Thomas drive down the lane or forcing Cuttino Mobley to put extra-high arc on a shot, muscling his way to a rebound, or draining a 16-foot jump shot, slamming home an alley-oop.
"It looked more like me out there tonight," Bynum said. "I was able to just kind of run and let the game come to me. I hit a couple of open shots I missed last night. The biggest difference was I just wasn't too anxious out there."
Bynum's first true taste of the business side of basketball had been one of the subplots of Lakers training camp. From the beginning, coach Phil Jackson expressed confidence that his young center would not let the negotiations interfere with his play, and he said that has largely been the case.
The local populace isn't fretting about Bynum's extension the way it's worried about the Dodgers re-signing Manny Ramirez. And Bynum hasn't worried that much about the money to come. Actually, this is the easy part. He's still about potential, still given allowances for youth, not faced with the demands that come with experience, past performance and big money. Just ask Chris Kaman, who crumbled the first season after he signed a five-year, $52.5 million extension.
Still, Kaman's averages through five seasons (10 points and 8 rebounds per game) are better than Bynum's through three. Is it too much to ask Bynum to outdo Chris Kaman before Bynum starts to get paid like Yao Ming and Pau Gasol?
Bynum was the better center Wednesday, as Kaman finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 turnovers.
Jackson said Bynum "had a strong game. He had some things happen for him successfully tonight."
If Jackson didn't sound especially complimentary, it's because he still has 80 games of coaching to do. That's why he was nitpicking afterward, saying things like "We struggled in the first quarter."
Uneasy rests the crown of the defending Western Conference champs and the predicted league winners this season. As Jackson said, "The hardest thing to do is play up to your expectations."
It looks like Bynum is about to find out for himself.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.
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