What's the Market For Former Sixers, Lakers Big Man Andrew Bynum?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2013

As more and more of the marquee free agents—Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, etc.—agree to deals, Andrew Bynum moves closer to the forefront of the offseason discussion. 

The big man spent all of the 2012-13 campaign sitting out, never logging even a single second of action for the Philadelphia 76ers. Now he's an unrestricted free agent, and he's looking to return to the court with a check in his back pocket worth multi-millions. 

Bynum is a risky signing, but he's also one that could drastically help speed up either a team's rebuilding efforts or push to become known as true contenders. 

The market is changing for the seven-footer, so let's take a gander at it. 


What are we looking at with Bynum?

Does anyone actually know? 

The options are limitless when it comes to Andrew Bynum, and they range from one end of the spectrum all the way to the other. Bynum could easily resume his former career path, one that left him tracking toward the top of the center rankings as he was leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. But at the same time, he might never play another game in the NBA

As a reminder, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.9 blocks during his final season with the Purple and Gold. He shot 55.8 percent from the field and racked up a PER of 22.9, according to Basketball-Reference.com

Those are dominant numbers, ones indicative of his immense upside. However, here's the caveat: They were accumulated during the 2011-12 season, a year before he sat out an entire campaign while technically a member of the Philadelphia 76ers organization. 

His knees were non-functioning throughout the past year. 

First he dealt with arthritis. Then a bone bruise reared its ugly head. A tweak in his left knee resulting from a bowling outing gone wrong was the next setback to keep him off the court, and the big man just couldn't get either joint to fully heal. His season ended with arthroscopic surgery on not one, but both knees. 

Due to these unfortunate physical hindrances, Bynum has become the premier high-risk, high-reward signing during the free-agency period. And, of course, he is refusing to work out for any teams, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, doing nothing to ease the concerns that he's too physically limited.

His talent is sure to usher in the millions, but his body brings a large degree of uncertainty along with it. 


Teams interested

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Cleveland Cavaliers have become one of the primary suitors in the courtship of the formerly dominant center who may drop that adverbial description in the future:

Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the Cavaliers are legitimate contenders to sign Bynum after his lost season in Philadelphia, especially if the former Los Angeles Lakers All-Star is willing to sign a one-year deal.

Stein also reports that the Cavs have made it to the face-to-face stage of the recruiting process, meeting with Bynum in an attempt to strengthen an already impressive frontcourt. This isn't a desperation move or an attempt to land a consolation prize after missing out on Dwight Howard, but rather an effort to make an up-and-coming roster even better.

The same can't be said for the other two suitors. 

The Dallas Mavericks are looking at more of a long-term deal. However, as Stein reports, the team is doing an "exhaustive evaluation process" of his knees. Mark Cuban's organization doesn't want to be saddled with a massive contract well into the future if Bynum can't play. 

The final team making noise in the pursuit of Bynum is one currently employing a natural power forward as its primary center. Al Horford has been fantastic at the 5 for the Atlanta Hawks, but that doesn't take away from the appeal of a Horford-Bynum frontcourt duo. 

Both the Hawks and Mavericks were interested in Dwight but fell out of the race quickly. Now they're left trying to land the consolation prize. If Bynum even becomes a prize.

Other teams could emerge out of the woodwork once the free-agency moratorium lifts on July 10, but that would be dependent on how much money Bynum will demand. If he puts himself on sale, the suitors will come flocking in. But if we're still talking about an eight-figure contract, the options are significantly more limited. 


How much would he make?

So far, five centers have agreed to deals during free agency. 

Dwight Howard was the gem of the class, agreeing to a four-year, $88 million max deal with the Houston Rockets. It's not fair to compare Bynum to Howard, even though that's exactly what we were doing just one calendar year ago. 

Zaza Pachulia and J.J. Hickson are too far on the opposite end of the spectrum. They signed three-year deals, the former for $16 million with the Milwaukee Bucks and the latter for $15 million with the Denver Nuggets. 

These two give us underestimates for Bynum, while Howard is the overestimate. 

Al Jefferson and Tiago Splitter are a bit more telling. 

The Brazilian big man re-signed with the San Antonio Spurs, agreeing to make $36 million over four years once the moratorium lifts. Fresh off an embarrassing showing against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, Splitter still nearly signed an eight-figure contract. He's a safe option but by no means an elite one. 

If he makes an average of $9 million per year, Bynum is virtually guaranteed to make more.

Now, let's turn to Big Al. 

The former Utah Jazz center agreed to sign with the Charlotte Bobcats, settling on $41 million over three years, good for an average of $13.7 million per season. It wasn't quite a max contract, but it was a hefty one nonetheless, one that established the Bobcats as actual players during the offseason. 

Jefferson is one of the elite, albeit underrated, bigs in the NBA. He's a steady offensive presence and a much safer option than Bynum. However, age and defensive shortcomings limit his long-term upside.

The same can't be said for the former Laker/former Sixer. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as he's overflowing with potential greatness, an upside matched only by the risk that comes inherent with offering him a contract.

Size and upside tend to make money in the NBA, which means that Bynum's contract is going to be in the same neighborhood as Jefferson's.

Don't expect to see a three-year deal, but a one- or two-year contract worth about $14 million per season is about as realistic as it gets.  


Prospects at each destination

Cleveland Cavaliers

Presumably working with a one-year deal, Bynum would receive the chance to show that he's still a dominant big man, all without much risk on the part of the organization.

If he broke out, it would only strengthen Cleveland's team. If he flopped, it would be a one-year experiment gone wrong, one that wouldn't hinder the Cavs' oft-discussed pursuit of LeBron James in the summer of 2014. 

However, it's unclear exactly how much playing time the prep-to-pro center would receive should he join forces with Kyrie Irving. Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett, this year's No. 1 draft pick, are set at power forward, while Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller both need minutes at the 5. Acquiring Bynum would make for an awkward five-man frontcourt rotation, one that wouldn't leave any player particularly happy. 

If Bynum sign with the Cavs, it likely signals to the rest of the NBA that Varejao and Thompson are available. Both players could bring back quality small forwards, thereby helping shore up the team's biggest weakness. 

Even still, Bynum wouldn't immediately be the featured player in this rotation, and he wouldn't help contribute too much to the spacing that is vital when Irving and Dion Waiters are on the court. 

It's a high-upside play by Cleveland, but it's important to temper the expectations. 

Dallas Mavericks

With Brandan Wright, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand all bouncing around the open market this summer, the Dallas Mavericks are left with a gaping void at center. It's one that Bynum could help fill immediately. 

Can you imagine a fully healthy Bynum playing next to Dirk Nowitzki? He'd take so much of the pressure off the German seven-footer that Dirk's career may be extended for a little while longer. 

The Mavs are in a position to take some risks. Their pursuit of the marquee free agents has failed for consecutive offseasons, and high-stakes gambling is necessary to open the title window before Dirk's inevitable decline forces it shut. 

Bynum would be given every opportunity to thrive in this Dallas lineup, and the results would be stellar if he could stay healthy. Plus, his knees would feel right at home when surrounded by the bevy of AARP members on the roster. 

In terms of individual success, this is the best bet for Bynum. 


Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are currently embroiled in one of the more bizarre offseasons of the summer. After the pursuit of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard flopped, it wasn't unreasonable to think that general manager Danny Ferry would play the long game and allow his team to tank through sheer lack of talent on the roster. 

But then the Hawks signed Paul Millsap and became players in the races for Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. That doesn't go hand-in-hand with a tanking strategy, as a Horford-Millsap-Jennings/Ellis trio would be enough to earn a playoff spot in the weaker Eastern Conference.

So while a pursuit of Bynum would have been a head-scratcher at the beginning of the offseason, I suppose it makes sense now. If the Hawks can sign the seven-footer to a one- or two-year deal, it would be a great way to land a potential centerpiece.

Bynum would have to earn a featured spot in the offense, though. He'd get minutes, but the presences of Horford, Millsap, Lou Williams and whoever else the Hawks sign prevent him from getting too many touches. At first. 

His game fits in perfectly next to Horford, who would be able to stretch the court more than ever and focus on forming a dynamic defensive frontcourt alongside Bynum.

That said, he wouldn't do as much winning as he would with the Cavs, and he wouldn't put up stellar individual numbers like he would with the Mavs.

The options are open for Bynum, but the pressure rests squarely on his shoulders. Hopefully that won't cause his knees to buckle once more.

With three suitors emerging from the pack, Bynum can essentially choose where he makes his return, but then he'll have to put in the necessary work to make it a successful one. He's going to make big bucks, so he can't be content to just cash in one more massive check. 

One thing is for sure: Bynum will make news for more than just his hairstyles during the 2013-14 season. Now, we just have to hope it's for basketball-related reasons, not his performance in a bowling alley.


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