Ranking Andrew Bynum's 5 Most Likely Landing Spots in 2013 Free Agency
When healthy, Bynum is one of the best two-way centers in the league. He hinted at his superstar potential during his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 by averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
"When healthy" is the key qualifier when it comes to assessing Bynum, though. After the Lakers traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers in August 2012, Bynum didn't play a single minute during the 2012-13 season due to a litany of knee troubles, much to the chagrin of Sixer fans.
He's appeared in all 82 games only once during his eight-year career, which begs the question of how many games a team can realistically expect out of him in a given year.
As he enters unrestricted free agency, teams will have to weigh both sides of the Bynum equation. Do the benefits of his post play outweigh the risks of his health troubles?
With that in mind, let's look at Bynum's five most likely landing spots in the summer of 2013, based on available salary cap space, team fit and risk aversion.
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If anyone appreciates the power of NBA superstars, it's Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Ever since injuries derailed the Yao Ming era, Morey desperately pursued his next white whale of a superstar. His efforts finally came to fruition in 2012 when he swiped James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade that's already come to haunt OKC.
With over $19 million in projected cap space available for 2013 free agents, Morey and the Rockets are poised to take the next step toward being true championship contenders. If they strike out on Chris Paul or Dwight Howard in free agency, Andrew Bynum could be a none-too-shabby consolation prize.
Like most of the teams featured here, it's doubtful that the Rockets would offer Bynum a fully guaranteed long-term deal due to his lengthy injury history. Including prior-injury-exception language for the final few years of his contract could mitigate most of Houston's concerns, however.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have been burned one too many times by injuries to make them a true contender for Andrew Bynum's services in the summer of 2013.
Between Brandon Roy and Greg Oden both having their careers cut short due to knee troubles, the last thing Portland fans need is another player with a long history of knee problems.
With roughly $10 million in projected cap space available for 2013 free agents, however, Portland can't be ruled out as a possible destination for Bynum. Pairing him with LaMarcus Aldridge would give the Blazers the size they lacked last year with J.J. Hickson manning the middle.
Rest assured that if the Blazers do decide to pursue Bynum in free agency, his contract will be loaded with prior-injury-exception language to prevent him from becoming a long-term albatross.
5. Dallas Mavericks
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You can describe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban with many adjectives but "risk averse" isn't one of them.
After his Mavs won the 2011 NBA championship, Cuban took a major gamble by not re-signing center Tyson Chandler, the anchor of the team's defense. He justified this decision based on the new collective bargaining agreement, saying teams more than ever couldn't afford to be hamstrung by bad contracts.
Suffice it to say, Cuban likely won't be rushing out in 2013 free agency to offer a long-term, fully guaranteed deal to the injury-prone Andrew Bynum.
If Cuban can't convince Dwight Howard or Chris Paul to leave Los Angeles, however, he's the type of owner who wouldn't be afraid to take a calculated risk on a player like Bynum.
Currently, accounting for O.J. Mayo's $4.8 million cap hold, the Mavericks are projected to have roughly $8.35 million in available cap space entering the summer of 2013. If the Mavs renounce their rights to Mayo or he signs with another team, they'll have nearly enough to offer someone a maximum contract without having to make any other major moves.
With Dirk Nowitzki heading into the twilight of his career, Cuban will likely be in hot pursuit of a potential superstar sidekick for Dirk. While he's unlikely to offer Bynum a fully-guaranteed four-year contract, he could offer the big man $10 million-plus per year with prior-injury-exception language for the final years of the deal.
4. Atlanta Hawks
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The Atlanta Hawks appear poised to be a major player in 2013 free agency.
Come July 1, longtime Hawk Josh Smith will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his nine-year career. No matter what the Hawks decide to do with Smith, they should have plenty of cap space remaining.
Even when you include an $18 million cap hold for Smith, the Hawks are still projected to have roughly $12 million in cap space. If Atlanta decides to re-sign J-Smoove, it won't be for $18 million per year in all likelihood, even if he thinks he's worth that much money.
If the Hawks renounce their rights to Smith, they'll have nearly $30 million in cap space. They'd be able to sign Andrew Bynum to a maximum contract and still have more than $10 million left to spend on other free agents.
Signing Bynum would allow Atlanta to slide Al Horford to his more natural position at the 4. Assuming Bynum could stay healthy (a big "if"), the Bynum-Horford duo would have a claim at being the most terrifying frontcourt in the entire league.
The Hawks are expected to be in hot pursuit of Atlanta native Dwight Howard at the start of free agency, which would stymie Bynum's chances of signing there. If the Hawks swing and miss on Howard, it wouldn't be a total shock if they offered Bynum a hefty three- or four-year contract that's loaded with prior-injury-exception language.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
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The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2012-13 season as the presumptive favorite to re-sign Andrew Bynum to a long-term deal in the summer of 2013.
Now, there's legitimate reason to wonder whether he'll ever play a single minute as a Sixer.
During the introductory press conference (via nba.com) for new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, he and owner Josh Harris made it clear that they won't re-sign Bynum just to recoup some benefit from the disastrous trade. Hinkie did call Bynum a "young, difference-making player," though, and praised Harris for standing up publicly and saying that, despite what happened, he'd do the exact same trade again.
"We talk a lot about process, not outcome," he said, "and about trying to consistently take all the best information you can and make consistently good decisions."
The Sixers hold a few major advantages in Bynum's free agency. The team gained his Larry Bird rights by trading for him in the summer of 2012, which allows them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. The Sixers should also have "an enormous information advantage," Hinkie said in his press conference, "based on all of the information that exists in-house."
If the team's medical staff believes that Bynum's knees won't continue to betray him, expect the Sixers to be one of his top suitors in free agency. It's highly unlikely, however, that the Sixers would offer Bynum a long-term, guaranteed deal based on how the 2012-13 season unfolded.
2. Phoenix Suns
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If any team can coax Andrew Bynum's knees into cooperating, it's the Phoenix Suns.
The "secret" of the training staff is ensuring "that a weakness in one area does not compromise other parts of the body," according to Michael Schwartz of the Valley of the Suns blog. For Bynum, whose knee troubles seemed to compound throughout the 2012-13 season, having a training staff like that could prove invaluable to his career.
The Suns' current starting center, Marcin Gortat, is only under contract through the 2013-14 season. If the Suns decided to bring in Bynum and relegate Gortat to the bench, they'd only have one year of overlap before Gortat's contract expired.
Phoenix should also have enough cap space to pursue a sign-and-trade with the 76ers if they decide against signing Bynum outright. The Suns could send Gortat and another piece (Channing Frye?) to Philadelphia in exchange for Bynum, preventing a potential big-man logjam on their roster.
If the Suns did opt to go the sign-and-trade route, they'd be obligated to sign Bynum to at least a three-year deal, according to CBA guru Larry Coon. However, only the first year of that deal is required to be fully guaranteed, which would allow Phoenix to include prior-injury-exception language for the latter two years of the contract.
1. Charlotte Bobcats
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Just how desperate are the Charlotte Bobcats? Their reaction to Andrew Bynum's free agency will be a perfect litmus test.
After accruing a grand total of 28 wins over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, has Bobcats owner Michael Jordan finally reached a breaking point? Is he so sick of losing and lacking a superstar on his roster that he's ready to gamble the future of his franchise on Bynum's balky knees?
If so, the Bobcats just may be crazy enough to be the one team willing to offer Bynum a fully guaranteed, long-term deal. It's not unprecedented, even in recent NBA history.
Amar'e Stoudemire's litany of knee problems didn't stop the New York Knicks from offering him a five-year, fully guaranteed $100 million deal in the summer of 2010. ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan, who formerly worked as the assistant director of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns, told me on Twitter that the Suns didn't expect any team to offer Stoudemire a fully guaranteed deal.
The Bobcats currently lack the cap space to sign Bynum to a maximum deal, but they'd be able to free up more space by declining team options on Gerald Henderson and B.J. Mullens.
If they're desperate enough to offer Bynum a guaranteed four-year deal, it might not matter that they're unable to offer him the maximum amount of money allowed. The Bobcats very well could be the only team willing to offer him a long-term fully guaranteed contract.