At the start of the season, Andrew Bynum did not play the first four games due to a suspension he earned in the final game of last year's playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks. In his first game back against the Denver Nuggets, he scored 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help the Lakers to a 92-89 win. He had his first 20-20 game on January 3 against the Houston Rockets scoring 21 points and grabbing 22 rebounds. On April 11, 2012 Bynum further showed why he should be an all-star when against the San Antonio Spurs he recorded a career high 30 rebounds and helped the Lakers win the game 98-84. His domination on the glass was further shown when the Spurs only managed to grab 32 rebounds as a team. This was all done with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers best player sitting out. For the first time he was selected to play in the All Star game as the Western Conference's starting center. He was awarded Western Conference Player of the Week for the week of March 12 through 18. Bynum finish the season averaging a career high 18.7 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game (NBA 3rd overall), and 35.2 minutes per game. His emergence as an all-star and career high numbers sparked a debate of whether Bynum was the best center in the league or Dwight Howard. Previously, Howard was seen widely as the undisputed best center in the league. Shaquille O'Neal was one of the main supporters of Bynum as the best center in the league.
The Lakers were matched against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. They won the opening game 103–88 after Andrew Bynum had a triple-double with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots. The blocked shots broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's franchise record of nine, and tied the NBA playoff record set by Mark Eaton and Hakeem Olajuwon. Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and Pau Gasol added 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. After the Lakers led the series 3–1, Bynum before Game 5 said, "Close-out games are actually kind of easy." The Lakers won the series 4–3, and avoided becoming the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in a series. Gasol had 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, Bynum had 16 points and a career playoff-high 18 rebounds, and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-high 19 points in a 96–87 win in Game 7. The Lakers blew 16-point lead in the second half before Gasol put the Lakers ahead for good with a tip-in basket with 6:30 to play. Denver had 19 turnovers in the game and shot just 7-of-27 shooting in the fourth quarter. Returning from his seven-game suspension, Metta World Peace scored 15 points, while Bryant had 17 points added eight assists.
The Lakers were then matched up against the second seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. During this series the Lakers did not have home court advantage as they did against Denver. In the first game of the series the Thunder blew the Lakers out 90-119. In the second game, the Lakers led 75-68 with 2:08 to play but were unable to hold on. Kevin Durant hit the go ahead bucket with 18.6 seconds to go and Steve Blake missed a three-pointer in the corner resulting in a 75-76 Laker loss. The Lakers won game 3 at home 99-96. Kobe Bryant scored 36 points going 18-18 from the free throw line including the last 2 free throws that put the Lakers up by 3. Game 4 ended with a 100-103 Thunder win. The Lakers held a 9-point lead with 6:01 to play in the 4th quarter but were unable to sustain. This time it was Kevin Durant with the go-ahead three-pointer over Metta World Peace. Kobe Bryant had 38 points to lead the Lakers but Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were able to both match him combining for 68 points. Ultimately, the eventual Western Conference Champions Thunder proved too much for the Lakers, winning the next game at Chesapeake Energy Arena 90-106, wrapping up the series 1-4. Kobe Bryant averaged 31.2 points per game in the series. Andrew Bynum, the Lakers other All-Star did not perform up to his usual standards and only averaged 16.6 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. This was low considering during the regular season he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, both career highs. This marked the second year in a row the Lakers were defeated in the second round of the playoffs. The previous year they were swept 4-0 by the Dallas Mavericks.
In December 2011, NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed a proposed three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Lamar Odom to the New Orleans Hornets, and Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets. Stern said the Hornets were better off keeping Paul than accepting the terms of the deal. The league had acquired the Hornets from former owner George Shinn, and the commissioner's office has final authority over all management decisions. Odom felt "disrespected" after he learned of the Hornets trade publicly, and he requested a trade from the Lakers to another contending team. The Lakers were also concerned that Odom's contract was pricey since he was not needed to initiate the triangle offense with Mike Brown replacing Phil Jackson as Lakers coach. Odom was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round draft pick and an $8.9 million trade exception on December 11.
On March 15, 2012, the Lakers traded Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, and a 2012 first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ramon Sessions, Christian Eyenga, and the right to swap a 2013 first-round pick for Miami's, currently owned by Cleveland. They also traded longtime Laker and co-captain Derrick Fisher and a 2012 first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets for Jordan Hill. These trades gave them the younger, quicker starting point guard they had been looking for to compete in a league that featured quick, explosive point guards on almost every team. Hill bolstered the Laker frontline which featured oft-injured Andrew Bynum. Both Sessions and Hill added youth to a Laker team filled with old veterans. Although Hill did not play immediately, he later planted himself as a key bench player after his breakout game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. After Metta World Peace was ejected for elbowing James Harden, the shorthanded Lakers called upon Hill. In his first game with significant minutes for the Lakers, he scored 14 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots. Not only did he play an important role in both overtime periods, he was so productive that Coach Mike Brown played Hill instead of Bynum, the Lakers' all star center. Hill helped the Lakers defeat the Thunder, 114–106.