Almost a decade into his career, Andrew Bynum is starting over.
Once heralded as one of the best big men in the game, Bynum was never supposed to wind up signing an incentive-laced two-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was never supposed to have been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers either. Bynum was supposed to be the Los Angeles Lakers' future.
Injuries persisted, though, and soon Bynum found himself changing from an injury-prone superstar with one of the most storied franchises in all of sports to an essential one-year gamble on a non-guaranteed contract in one of the NBA's smallest markets.
Bynum's demise wasn't slow or steady; it was a free fall. Less than two years ago, some thought to declare him better than Dwight Howard, to call him the best center in the game. Only a year ago, he was a championship pillar for the Sixers to build around, someone who would lead them back toward prominence and earn a nine-figure deal in the near future.
Not too long ago, Bynum was more than a calculated risk. He was somebody.
Now he's here, a member of the Cavaliers, ready to begin the next chapter of his career.
Where his latest journey will ultimately take him is anyone's guess.
February 26, 2012: Mom, I've Made It
This date is important mostly because some couldn't believe it until they saw it—Bynum making his first career All-Star appearance, and starting at that.
Bynum logged just over five-and-a-half minutes and registered one block, one steal and three rebounds while missing all three of his field-goal attempts, one of which was a three-pointer.
After six-plus years of aggravation, he had made it. Bynum was officially a superstar.
May 21, 2012: The Beginning of the End
Following the Lakers' Game 5 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 2 of the playoffs, reporters asked Bynum about his future with the team.
"I'm not sure," he said, as quoted by CBS Sports. "It really doesn't matter to me. I'll play anywhere. I think for the most part I had a pretty decent season and then an OK postseason. Obviously this last game was the worst game I've probably played."
By this point, rumors of Los Angeles lusting after Dwight Howard were already running rampant. Bynum's contract would expire if the Lakers didn't exercise their team option, and his indifference was thought to be the result of a bruised ego or genuine disinterest. Or a combination of both.
Pressed further, Bynum admitted he would like to stay.
"I definitely want to stay," he said. "You kind of asked an open-ended question. Obviously things are going to be different come next year. I'm going to be ready."
Game 5 would be the last he ever played for the Lakers. Hell, the beggarly 10 points and four rebounds he grabbed in 35 minutes are still our most recent memory of him playing basketball to this day.
June 4, 2012: At Least One More Year...Supposedly
The Lakers exercised their option on the final year of Bynum's deal, just like everyone knew they would.
Even with him on the books for another year, nothing about his future was etched in stone. Or even sand, for that matter.
As Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times noted, the Lakers themselves weren't even sure of their plans for Bynum. He could be used as trade bait, be re-signed or enter free agency the following summer.
No one quite knew what would happen, though that didn't last long.
August 10, 2012: Dwight Howard In, Andrew Bynum Out
The Lakers dealt Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a four-team trade that brought Howard to Los Angeles.
Bynum's arrival in Philly would make the Sixers contenders. It was there he would prove his worth as a franchise cornerstone, someone a team could build around.
Or so we thought.
August 14, 2012: Excited for a Fresh Start
Not too many people were sure how Bynum would feel about coming to the Sixers.
Entering the final year of Bynum's contract, Philly was taking a risk. He had good leads upon season's end. The Sixers could dangle the five years and $100-plus million contract it was eligible to offer him, and he could still leave.
Any anxiety in the matter was almost immediately quelled. Sources told Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld that Bynum was "beyond thrilled" to join the Sixers.
All indications were that he was prepared to stick around for the long haul, and increase his net worth considerably while doing it.
August 15, 2012: A New Home
Much ado was made over Bynum's introduction to the Philadelphia faithful.
Asked if he planned on re-signing with the Sixers, Bynum drew applause from the crowd when he suggested he was ready to settle in for years to come.
"To be honest, my first experience here's been so great, I'm really looking forward to making this my home," he said, according to ESPN.com.
Everything seemed perfect here. The Sixers had a center to build their future around, Bynum had his own team and incredible things were to come.
Only they never did.
September 25, 2012: The Kobe Treatment Worked...
As expected, Bynum traveled to Germany to have what has simply become known as the "Kobe Bryant Procedure."
Really, what Bynum had was plasma therapy, otherwise known as Orthokine treatment, and at first, it appeared to work.
“He feels very good," Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said then, per Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com.
Everything we were hearing pointed toward Bynum being ready for training camp. Inevitably, he wasn't.
October 1, 2012: ...Or Maybe Not
Philadelphia had to shut down Bynum for three weeks on account of what was then being reported was a right-knee bone bruise.
The team described the decision as "precautionary," saying that he could still participate in some "low-impact" conditioning drills.
Three weeks was hardly ideal, but it didn't mean anything. These things happened, especially with Bynum. He would eventually bounce back.
October 10, 2012: Damaged Goods
By now, news had started to surface that Bynum's knee injury was more serious than the Sixers were letting on.
Fox 29's Howard Eskin went as far as saying the Lakers traded the Sixers "damaged goods," predicting that Bynum wouldn't play at all during the preseason.
Not only was he right, this turned out be just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
October 15, 2012: Injection Time
Everyone was still led to believe that it wasn't serious, but once needles get involved, people take notice.
This was no exception.
October 30, 2012: The Truth...Sort Of
After initially saying that Bynum would be out just a few weeks, the Sixers admitted one day before their season opener that there was no timetable for his return.
Three weeks, indefinitely—same thing, right?
October 31, 2012: Where's Bynum?
As anticipated, the Sixers began their season without Bynum.
Facing off against the Denver Nuggets, the Sixers managed to steal a victory. It was the first of just 34 on the season.
November 12, 2012: January? Maybe? Anyone?
Philly released a statement that pretty much said Bynum would be able to return by January. Maybe.
Wrapping it up in a chocolate-covered shell didn't do much for the delivery. Concern was already at an all-time high, and the notion that two more months of rest wasn't a big deal wasn't something fans were prepared to digest.
Bynum attempted to put his own spin on it, telling CSN Philly that it wasn't really a setback.
"It's not a setback," he said. "It really was the original plan. I was talking to my doctor and he said it would take eight to 12 weeks."
Funny, because we heard three. And then we heard nothing. Not a peep about this "plan" that was supposedly the "plan" all along, even though we were led to believe there was no such "plan."
The writing really was on the wall, floor, ceiling and sky by now.
November 18, 2012: Bowling Can Be Dangerous
So yeah, this happened.
Our first observation: He probably shouldn't have been bowling.
Our second observation: If he injured his knee, he's probably doing it wrong.
November 24, 2012: He's Still Hurt
DiLeo reiterated that Bynum wasn't coming back anytime soon.
"Bottom line is Andrew is out indefinitely," he said, according to ESPN.com. "There are no timelines; we just have to wait and see how he reacts."
At least the Sixers dropped that whole "he'll be back tomorrow this time, we promise act" they were slinging for so long.
December 10, 2012: I Could Play If I Wanted To
Adding intrigue to this whole saga was Bynum's assertion that he could play if the Sixers were in the NBA Finals.
"If this was the Finals and we have a chance to win, I’d be able to play," Bynum told CSN Philly. "Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? But why risk anything when you have time to come back and be 100 percent?"
Translation: If I could play, I would play. Only I can't play. So I'm not going to play.
December 21, 2012: Progress
DiLeo said that Bynum's knees were "healing" and he was able to increase his activity level.
I'm not sure the Sixers could have been more vague if they tried.
January 14, 2013: Practice for the Cameras
Finally, the wait was over. Kind of.
Bynum was seen "practicing," and naturally, it was encouraging.
He took some jumpers and may or may not have worked up a sweat.
Excitement began to mount, which pretty much meant that something else was overdue to go wrong.
January 28, 2013: February for Sure. Maybe.
Philly had the good sense to provide a somewhat definitive timetable on Bynum's return.
Did I say good sense? I meant the misfortune of actually believing it had a handle on this fiasco.
February came and went, and Bynum never played.
What else isn't new?
February 5, 2013: Nothing Worked
Still targeting a February return date, Bynum admitted that the knee injections he had didn't work.
"It was an attempt at kind of trying to just ease the pain, but it hasn't really changed," Bynum told USA Today.
So, to recap, Bynum was in the same pain he had always been in, yet reports of his progress had been littering the Internet. If it seems like that doesn't make sense, it's because it doesn't.
Everyone was telling a different story, making this all confusing. Very, very confusing. Those involved just wanted it to end, to see Bynum play a second of meaningful action.
Wishes don't always come true, though.
February 23, 2013: Practice. For Real.
At long last, Bynum practiced. For real. Like actually practiced.
He took jumpers. Played 5-on-5. There was sweat. Actual perspiration (presumably).
Maybe Bynum would make good on his February return date after all.
Even if he couldn't, it didn't matter. Since he was practicing, on the court, with actual people, that meant he was close. The big man was going to play this season. It was going to happen.
Well, that'll teach Sixers fans to remain optimistic.
March 1, 2013: Damn You, Practice.
He who practices shall be punished accordingly.
Roughly one week after participating in a scrimmage, Bynum's knees experienced some swelling. It was then he finally admitted that he might not be able to play at all this year.
Normally, we would applaud such transparency, but it took months, a half-year, to get to this point. Such concessions should have been made long ago.
There may have been no way for the team or Bynum to know it would get to this point, but any kind of viable intel would have welcomed.
Smokescreens, generalities and what now seem like bald-faced lies ensued for the entire year, and we were well past the point of honesty being refreshing.
March 18, 2013: Season-ending Surgery
It was about damn time.
After months of dancing around and toward season-ending surgery, the Sixers finally announced that Bynum was done for the year.
The news merely confirmed what most had already come to suspect, so it didn't come as a shock.
Philly fans had come to grips with the fact that they may have traded Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic for basically nothing. This, if anything, was a relief. Now they could finally move on.
Now, they had the truth.
April 30, 2013: Bynum Feels Like Dancing
How was Bynum's rehab going, you ask?
Well enough for him to shake his groove thang.
He was seen flamenco dancing in Spain, forcing us to shift our focus from the playoffs to the recklessness behind his behavior.
I'm kidding, of course. What Bynum does on his own time is his business. That said, we can't deny that our minds journeyed to the bowling debacle all over again. If he could hurt his knee while bowling, just imagine the risks involved with him dancing.
Bynum seemed to be moving pretty well, though. All that was missing was a hoop to dunk on. Then all our concerns would have vanished.
June 25, 2013: Rehab Is a Success
Apparently, all that dancing paid off, because leading into the draft, it was reported that Bynum was set to resume workouts.
Not a moment too soon either. With free agency fast approaching and Bynum's stock already plummeting, some good news needed to come from his camp.
And it did.
His agent told USA Today that there was "not a concern in the world" about whether Bynum would be ready for training camp.
Now isn't that convenient?
July 1, 2013: No Sneak Peek
There would be no preview of what's to come from 'Drew in free agency.
Bynum's agent, David Lee (not of the Golden State Warriors), announced that Bynum would not be working out for any interested teams, because of course he wouldn't.
No use damaging his stock any further, right?
Just to be clear, any time a player doesn't give teams a look at what he can do for fear of devaluing himself, that's a red flag.
July 10, 2013: The Cleveland Cavaliers Roll the Dice
Cleveland did a magnificent job in courting Bynum, mostly because other teams didn't seem to care.
ESPN's Chris Broussard was the first to report that the big man would sign with the Cavs.
Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Bynum would ink a two-year deal, the second of which was a team option, worth $24.5 million, only $6 million of which was guaranteed.
This was quite the pull by Cleveland, though it didn't hurt that its two biggest competitors—the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks—didn't formally tender Bynum an offer.
Bringing him in won't impede the Cavs' ability to spend, spend, spend next summer if they decline his option, and if he works out, they look like geniuses. Not to mention they'll have a top-tier center on their side at a discounted price.
Bynum can make the Cavs a playoff team—not a contender—so there was no use to even think twice about pulling the trigger on this. If he doesn't work out, then so be it. The Cavs took a shot, and we should commend them for it.
It took less than two years for Bynum to go from Dwight Howard-esque to a maybe-if-we're-lucky-this-guy-will-play-for-us signing.
All indications are that he's ready to go, but we've heard that before. Many times. Until he's actually on the floor, contributing, there's no telling what the future will bring.
Sheathed with the knowledge that this is his last chance to make a successful lasting impression, one has to assume Bynum is prepared to be more engaged than he has been in the past.
Cleveland is the place for him to prove his detractors wrong and restore faith in his knees, his potential and himself as a player. The Cavs are the team that can help him salvage the rest of his career. But they can only do so much.
The rest is up to Bynum himself, degenerative knees permitting, of course.
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