According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, free agent Andrew Bynum is visiting with the Cleveland Cavaliers today.
The Cavs value their 2014 cap space over everything else, so the most they will reportedly offer Bynum is a one-year deal. Bynum is likely looking for a longer commitment, but since the Cavs can afford to pay him more than any other team for just this season, he could possibly be tempted by that lucrative offer.
How much sense would it make for Cleveland to blow its remaining 2013 cap space on a big man who missed all 82 games last season? Assuming Cleveland's doctors sign off on Bynum's knee, there is still some inherent risk, but the upside—which we'll get to shortly—is compelling enough for Cleveland to pull the trigger.
Just 12 months ago, Bynum was the best offensive center in basketball and the centerpiece of the mega-trade that landed Dwight Howard in Los Angeles. After missing a year with knee injuries—which he exacerbated by bowling, lending credence to the thought that he's wildly immature—he is now considering a one-year offer from a perennially lottery-bound franchise. Getting sued for being "a terrible neighbor," skipping a team photo and his haircuts are not exactly pillars supporting the argument that he's a pro's pro.
Still, a one-year deal with Cleveland could make sense for both sides.
For Bynum, it is the most money he can make this season. He's 25—young enough for one or even two more max contracts in his career. If he puts together a season where he shows almost any signs of his previous form, a team will absolutely max him out next summer. Going out of his way to prove he has his act together for a full season wouldn't hurt, either.
It's a dice roll, to be sure, but a max deal does not seem forthcoming at the moment. Plus, a Cavs team with a healthy Bynum starting at center is a playoff team. A big effort in the postseason virtually guarantees a max payday. It's a risk, but there is a significant upside.
For Cleveland, there's less risk. Well, unless you're Dan Gilbert and it is your millions that are being invested. Since it is not my money, I'll proceed as if that's irrelevant.
The worst-case scenario for Cleveland is not Bynum missing all 82 games. Cleveland could word the contract to minimize the financial burden in case Bynum was unable to play.
But if Bynum is in-and-out of the lineup, he'd hurt any type of continuity Cleveland is trying to establish. There's a new coach and a roster full of young guys. It is going to be a naturally chaotic atmosphere, and paying Bynum to disrupt that—with the chance he mouths off or does something immature and becomes a legitimate distraction—might not be worth the trouble.
Still, the best-case scenario is enthralling. Say Bynum is healthy and motivated to clean up his reputation. From a purely on-the-court point of view, Cleveland's roster suddenly makes a lot more sense.
With Bynum starting at center, it is much easier to play either Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao at the 4—both struggle to guard legit centers. Bynum will handle that, and allow one of the two to come off the bench. That's another huge win for Cleveland, deepening a bench that was watch-through-your-hands bad last season.
Offensively, Bynum commands a double team when he catches it on the block. Pair him with Kyrie Irving, who draws massive amounts of defensive attention as soon he dribbles over half court, and defenses will be stretched to the breaking point. Dion Waiters suddenly has a ton of open looks and defenders running out to him, making driving to the rim—his greatest strength—that much easier.
The small forward spot is still a problem, but it becomes less of one when the four other spots on the court are so strong. Defending the premier 3s in the East—LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and even Paul Pierce—is still a huge, huge problem, but at least the rim will no longer have a welcome mat beneath it with Bynum in the paint.
A healthy Bynum vaults Cleveland past the cluster of playoff hopefuls like Washington, Toronto, Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee. They're now fighting to crack the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Their ceiling is probably the No. 3 seed—Miami and Indiana are still a cut above—but there are enough question marks with every other team in the East that if everything breaks correctly for Cleveland—which it never does, but still—the three-spot is not a laughable goal.
Bynum is also a valuable insurance policy for 2014. If he's is a train wreck, Cleveland can wash its hand of the mess and walk away. But if he plays well and Chris Grant is unable to land a premier free agent, he now has leverage in working out a long-term deal for what was one of the best centers in the league a year ago. At they very least, if Bynum is determined to leave, Grant can sign-and-trade him and pick up something for Cleveland's trouble.
So while the risk is considerable, so is the reward. For Cleveland, a team dead-set on making the playoffs and trying to be aggressive in free agency, one-year deal for max money is a gamble worth taking.
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