The departure of Shaquille O'Neal in 2004 left a big hole in the middle for the Lakers, so big that they missed the playoffs in 2005. That gave them the 10th pick overall for the 2005 NBA draft, the best for L.A. in many years.
The Lakers surprised almost everyone in the league by using their selection to pick Andrew Bynum, a 17-year-old teenage center from St. Joseph High School. It was a high-risk long-term move but they thought the potential to get a franchise center was a risk worth taking.
Almost immediately, the team brought the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a special assistant to work with the team's big men, especially Bynum, who clearly was going to need a lot of development before having some impact. His first season went almost unnoticed other from his first meet with Shaq, who sent him to the floor with a dunk over him. On the next play, Bynum got the ball under the Heat's board, faked right, then spun left around O'Neal and dunked the ball. He bodied Shaq as he ran down the court, and after Shaq swung an arm into his chest. both received technical fouls. Bynum averaged 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 7.3 minutes per game for a coach that -- everybody knows -- doesn't like to use rookies and inexperienced players.
The injuries of the other centers Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown gave Andrew the opportunity to play more in 2006-07. He started 53 games and averaged 7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 21.9 minutes.
His improvement started to draw interest from other teams, including the Nets, who wanted to get Odom and Bynum in exchange from Jason Kidd but the Lakers front office wasn't going to let their big diamond go. Kobe Bryant's public demands to be traded and criticism to general manager Mitch Kupchak for not bringing Kidd or building a competitive roster made the 2007 summer one full of trade talks and all of them included Bynum (Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion...) but with the only exception of Garnett, the Lakers stuck to their decision to build their future around Bynum, whether Kobe decides to stay after the 2008 season.
And Bynum rewarded their confidence by suddenly jumping ahead of schedule in his growing and becoming the missing piece the team needed to be a contender in the strong Western Conference. The impact of his performance was so big that Kobe Bryant started to publicly say things like "He developed into the player that I prayed about having on my team for years".
He was playing solidly and being a reference in the post with averages of 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks while leading the NBA with a .636 field goal percentage when in January 13 he suffered and injury that first looked like a sprained left knee but later was diagnosed as a bone bruise in his knee and a subluxation of his kneecap. Although he will not need surgery and there is no ligament damage, it will keep him out for 8 weeks which means he will miss around 27 games.