Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Cavs willing to take a chance on Andrew Bynum

cavs andrew bynumThe Cleveland Cavaliers took the bait on Wednesday, agreeing to a two-year contract with free agent center Andrew Bynum.

So what are the Cavs receiving from an oft-injured player who missed all of the 2012-13 season and brings career averages of 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game?

For starters, Bynum is probably a better player than his career stats would indicate. He has trended upward since his rookie year, when he averaged just 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds a game, culminating in 2011-12, when he had career highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Bynum put up those numbers under coach Mike Brown, who was with the Los Angeles Lakers that season and is now back in Cleveland as Cavs coach.

So, statistically at least, Bynum’s career is trending in a good direction.

The Cavs also gave up “only money” to acquire Bynum. His contract only guarantees $6 million in the first year and can grow to $12 million if Bynum hits multiple incentives, reportedly tied to how many games he plays during the upcoming season. In salary terms, the Cavs switched out Luke Walton for Bynum.

The Cavs also did not have to give up any players or draft picks, unlike Philadelphia did when they traded for Bynum in the summer of 2012. In that deal, the 76ers traded Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and two first-round draft picks to acquire Bynum. (We’ll get back to the 76ers in a moment.)

The deal also has no impact on the Cavs future cap space, meaning general manager Chris Grant will still have flexibility to pursue free agents again next summer.

So how did the Cavs find themselves with all this good fortune?

If you believe David Lee, Bynum’s agent, Cleveland is the best fit for Bynum.

“It was the best situation,” Lee told The Plain Dealer. “The team looks terrific. We could not find a negative.”

We’re sure that the fact that the Cavs were willing to pay more money than any other team in the NBA had nothing to do with the decision. It’s funny, though, how things tend to work out that way.

But that’s the part of the deal that is nagging at us: just what did the Cavs see that every other NBA team did not when looking at Bynum?

Bynum’s knees are so bad that no one else was willing to take a chance on him. The damage to his articular cartilage, the smooth tissue that covers the ends of bones in joints and allows the bones to glide over one another with little friction or discomfort, is so extreme that, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, it actually got worse after having a blood-spinning procedure performed in Germany during the summer of 2011.

Now, while that is certainly not as bad as pursuing a player who has had three microfracture surgeries on his knees, it’s still not good.

Let’s go back a year and take a look at what the 76ers were saying after they traded for Bynum.

“We are very excited to welcome Andrew Bynum, one of the league’s best, young centers … to the Philadelphia 76ers,” owner Josh Harris said at the time. “As we stated from the outset, our ownership group is committed to exploring every option available to us in order to improve our team. This trade is the culmination of a very active off-season, one that we believe positions the Sixers for success this season and for many years to come.”

Now fast forward to the end of November, when it became obvious that Bynum was not as healthy as Philadelphia management had hoped.

“Bottom line is Andrew is out indefinitely,” said Tony DiLeo who at the time was Philadelphia’s general manager (he was replaced after the season.) “There are no timelines; we just have to wait and see how he reacts.

“His knees now and the MRIs are not the same; it’s a different type (of) situation. At the time of the trade, we had four doctors look at his MRI; we knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise-type player. We took that risk.”

Jumping ahead again, this time to a press conference in March.

“Well, no one anticipated that this would happen, that Bynum wouldn’t be able to play any – so far he hasn’t played any games,” 76ers president Rod Thorn said. “We were hopeful that he might be able to play when the season started, then it’s been a series of things and he hasn’t been able to play. That’s been tough.”

Grant may want to file those comments away somewhere because there is a real chance he may be reading from the same script at some point this season.

If Bynum had passed on the Cavs offer to sign elsewhere for less money, we wouldn’t have been all that upset. Only the most obtuse fans would choose to ignore his injury history (Bynum has only played in 61 percent of his team’s games) and immaturity and expect everything to work out in Cleveland.

But now that he is on the Cavs, the question becomes what is the tipping point for this deal to be a success?

Clearly 82 games is out of the question as Bynum only hit the mark once in his career and, even if that was not the case, that would probably be a big ask of any player who missed the entire previous season.

Will 40 games be enough – especially if they come in the second half of the season as the Cavs battle for a playoff spot? What about 30 solid games that give hope that Bynum will be ready for a full season in 2013-14?

Will itl be enough if Bynum is ready to fill in when Anderson Varajeo goes down with his annual season-ending injury?

And how patient will fans be as the games roll along this season if Bynum is piling up DNPs? More importantly, how patient will Bynum be if he spends another season sitting on the bench?

Having said that, it’s hard not to be at least somewhat optimistic about the signing (which isn’t the same as being happy about it). If Bynum can return to being the player he was during his final year in Los Angeles, even if he plays fewer minutes, then the Cavs are certainly a better team. After all, this is a team that gave minutes to the likes of Samardo Samuels, Chris Quinn and Luke Walton last season.

And if Bynum just spends another year collecting a paycheck? That’s obviously a risk that the Cavs are willing to take.

For now, Chris Grant has enough goodwill in the bank that we are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But we reserve the right to change our mind down the road.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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