Andrew Bynum and the Cleveland Cavaliers reached an agreement on a two-year deal that could potentially be worth up to $24.5 million. The first year of the contract guarantees the former All-Star $6 million, but Bynum can earn the full value of the deal primarily by avoiding injury. Cleveland holds a team option for the second year.
Bynum has not played in a basketball game in over a year after missing the entirety of last season with knee injuries. He met with the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, but neither team was willing to top Cleveland's offer.
For the Cavs, it's a worthwhile roll of the dice. Bynum joins the franchise on immensely favorable terms for Cleveland. If Bynum can't play, the Cavs are out of pocket for just $6 million—what they paid Luke Walton last season—but if he finds a way to stay healthy and reemerges as the best offensive centers in basketball, Cleveland ditches the lottery and moves squarely into fringe contender status.
Say what you want about Chris Grant, but this is a stellar move with almost no downside. The terms are so favorable, in fact, that I can't believe no one else in the NBA was willing to match. Bynum didn't seem enamored with the deal off the bat—he scheduled two other visits before circling back to Cleveland—but once it was clear this was the best he could do, he agreed to put pen to paper.
That no other team would pay Bynum is more than a little frightening. Teams must be absolutely petrified by his knee, because when this guy is on, he's one of the very best in the Association. Some combination of injury history and his immaturity was apparently too much for the 29 other teams in the league to stomach.
This really is a classic Chris Grant move. He pulled the trigger in a spot where 29 other GMs would not. For his bravery, Grant has assembled a team that is more than capable of making noise in the playoffs.
There is obviously a very real chance that this whole experiment goes south very, very quickly. Bynum missed an entire season, Anderson Varejao has played in 81 games combined the past three years and franchise cornerstone Kyrie Irving has specialized in finding new and unique ways to injure himself (the mask was kinda cool, though). There are a lot of medical red flags on this team. You don't have to strain much to envision multiple scenarios in which Nick Gilbert is sitting at one of 13 wooden podiums again next May.
But if—and again, this is a huge, flashing-lights disclaimer—the Cavs all stay healthy for a full season, their upside is considerable. Like, could host a playoff series considerable.
This obviously does not do anything to change Miami's status as the clear-cut favorites in the East. Indiana and Chicago are still a cut above as well. But after that? It is entirely possible Cleveland is good enough to beat out Brooklyn or New York for home-court advantage in Round 1. If healthy—again, please pay special attention to those flashing lights—the No. 6 seed seems like their floor.
Something like Golden State's run last season seems plausible. Cleveland gets off to a hot start, paced by some electric guard play and better-than-expected contributions from its bigs. There is a mid- to-late-season lull where the injury bug rears its head and the Cavs are overly cautious. But the fast start buoys their record and allows them to get into the postseason. There, fully healthy, they ride the energy provided by a raucous fanbase starved for exciting basketball for three years to a first-round upset and an exhilarating second-round battle before doggedly bowing out.
If Bynum ends up being a part of the long-term future in Cleveland, this could be one of those seasons where the team takes a big step forward, makes some noise in the playoffs and has everyone excited for the season after, now that the young guys have some experience.
Will anything close to that happen? Who knows. The range of possibilities for the upcoming season is all over the place. There's so many variables that a realistic prediction is hard to pin down. One thing is for certain: for the first time in three seasons, Cleveland will put a real basketball team on the court.
We'll get a better idea of how Mike Brown plans to use his new acquisition during training camp and the preseason. But it seems safe to pencil Bynum in as the starting center. He probably won't be playing 40 minutes a night right off the bat, but he'll be out there for the opening tip. The rest of the starting lineup—sans the small forward spot—then falls nicely into place. Or at least as nicely into place as a team starting an undersized power forward that can't stretch the floor and a hodgepodge of shaky small forwards.
This is no sure thing. It's a risky move. But for fans that just sat through three seasons of brutal basketball, it is hard not to be optimistic right now.
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