The Andrew Bynum free-agent sweepstakes might not have had all of the dramatic elements of the Dwight Howard pursuit, but the collective eyes of the hoops world were watching intently to see where the seven-footer would fall.
ESPN's Chris Broussard first broke the news that the 25-year-old big man would sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Source: Andrew Bynum has decided to sign with Cleveland— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 10, 2013
Injuries in both knees kept Bynum sidelined for the entire 2012-13 season, his first and last with the Philadelphia 76ers. The last time the hoops world saw the center on the floor, though, he had a career year for the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2011-12.
Bynum's arrival in Cleveland should be met with cautious optimism, as the Cavaliers fanbase tries to grasp exactly what the team has added to its arsenal. If he's healthy, he's pushing Howard for the title of the best center in the league. If his knees are never the same, he may never even don a Cavaliers jersey.
The Cavaliers' lottery luck in recent drafts netted them one of the more intriguing young rosters in the league.
2011 No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving already has one All-Star Game under his belt, and the prolific scoring guard (22.5 points per game last season) is playing without a ceiling at this point. Shooting guard Dion Waiters, power forward Tristan Thompson and 2013 top pick Anthony Bennett (a 'tweener forward) figured to fill four of the five spots in Cleveland's young starting five.
The only thing missing was a low post presence capable of dominating the interior at both ends of the floor. Bynum can be that missing piece:
Cavs starting lineup. #young PG - Kyrie Irving SG - Dion Waiters SF - Anthony Bennett PF - Tristan Thompson C - Andrew Bynum— Brett Poirier NBA (@BrettNBA) July 10, 2013
He's a career 56.6 percent shooter from the field adept at pairing his burly 285-pound frame and fancy footwork to create highly efficient offensive chances at the rim. Since becoming a full-time starter in his second season, he's only averaged fewer than 1.6 blocks once in six seasons.
The Cavaliers have a horde of shooters to free up Bynum in the middle, and his career 10.9 offensive rebounding percentage suggests he'll be in prime position to inhale their errant three-point shots. He's not the fastest big man by any stretch, but he's mobile enough to set crushing screens to free up Irving and Waiters for drives to the basket.
Outside of Thompson, Cleveland's draft day heists have been offensively focused. It's too early to call their other players defensive liabilities, but all will thrive with Bynum watching their back.
The Eastern Conference is growing increasingly top-heavy, but there are still a number of playoff openings up for grabs. The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers have strengthened their hold on the top-two postseason seeds, but the Cavaliers could realistically shoot for first-round home-court advantage if their younger players continue to improve and Bynum shows up with a clean bill of health.
Another lost season is an all-too-real possibility for a player with a history of knee problems that some have called "degenerative." There are concerns that he'll still struggle to reach his pre-injury level of production, and furthermore, there's been speculation that his medical red flags could keep him off the hardwood permanently.
The Cavaliers didn't just blindly throw money at Bynum; they clearly did their homework. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has the details of Bynum's incentive-laced contract:
Andrew Bynum's deal w/ Cleveland will include $6 million of $12M guaranteed in year 1, league source says. Team option of $12.5M for 14-'15.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 10, 2013
While Cleveland did what it could to minimize its risk, there's no way to make this a completely risk-free acquisition.
The Cavaliers can't afford to play the same waiting game with Bynum that plagued Philadelphia's 2012-13 campaign. Cleveland won't want to rush big man Anderson Varejao (who was limited to just 25 games last season by a blood clot in his lower right lung) back into action and would prefer to avoid giving major minutes to sophomore big man Tyler Zeller.
If the Cavaliers are buying into their playoff potential, they'll chase that postseason berth with everything they have. That means no more lottery magic next season and no chance at Kansas' freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins.
A mediocre finish and no Bynum in the middle leads to an uphill climb to convince LeBron James that a homecoming would be in his best interest if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal with the Miami Heat next summer.
Irving's presence continues to fuel the return talks with James, but an All-Star center like Bynum or a potential stud like Wiggins might be needed to keep the fires ablaze underneath these smoke screens.
Was This a Good Move for Cleveland?
This was absolutely a sound investment for the Cavaliers, even with the caveat that Bynum may never play a game in Cleveland.
If the signing pays off, the Cavs just grabbed the second-best center in the business at a very modest rate ($12 million per year). If not, Cleveland is only out of the $6 million guaranteed commitment it gave to Bynum for next season and still has gobs of cap space to attack the potentially stacked 2014 free-agent class.
The risk is low, while the reward is potentially great.
There's a reason that Bynum was left scouring for a deal this summer, but there's also a reason he found himself a contract that could be worth nearly $25 million without playing a single minute last season.
If Cleveland's luck extends past draft lottery night, the Cavaliers can finally entertain their first realistic post-James playoff hopes.