Why Cleveland Cavs Can't Afford to Play Waiting Game for Healthy Andrew Bynum

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

May 12, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) arrives for game seven in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center.  Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this one before. 

Andrew Bynum's health is up in the air, and we have absolutely no idea when he'll be back in action. But instead of talking about the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason, we're moving on to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed the big man to a two-year deal with only $6 million guaranteed.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd, Bynum isn't exactly ready for the season to start quite yet: 

Andrew Bynum still hasn't been cleared for contact and, therefore, isn't likely to be ready when the Cavaliers open training camp next week, but that hasn't soured coach Mike Brown's opinion of him.

Brown still believes Bynum can be one of the best centers—ever.

"He could very easily be the best center in the game," Brown said. "Not only the game today, but he's skilled enough and has the rest of the tools to be one of the best ever."

Bynum is now running on treadmills, but has not resumed contact drills on the court, Brown said Monday at the team's charity golf outing at Firestone Country Club. There is still no timetable for Bynum's return, and no one in the organization is pressing him after his lengthy history of knee troubles.

At least we haven't heard about setbacks.

And you'll have to forgive me for being pessimistic about this news. I'm a born-and-raised optimist—the kind of guy who always sees the glass as half full, even when it's got only a couple drops in it—but Bynum has led me to adopt the opposite mentality. 

Right now, the Cavaliers are playing a waiting game with the talented center. They're hoping that he recovers and can be a key contributor, but in reality, they don't know what to expect. 

While it's fine to do so now, they can't afford to let this waiting game drag on for too long. 


Limited Time for Evaluation

May 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) dunks to score a basket against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of game two of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandato
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Bynum's track record isn't so great when it comes to actually spending time on the court, so this lack of good news obviously isn't positive. Some players are just more injury-prone than others, and the Cavs presumably accounted for that when they made their decision to ink this particular big man.

But Cleveland is now messing around with a ticking clock.

Bynum's contract was a masterclass in risk management. There's no doubting that. If he completely flames out, then it was a $6 million mistake to sign him, but there's potential for him to resume his place among the pantheon of modern-day centers.

And, as you can see from that highlight reel, it's a level he really had reached before the fall from grace.

However, what's been often overlooked is how long the Cavaliers have to make this determination. With training camp looming, it's pretty clear that the 2013-14 season is just around the corner.

Well, Bynum's salary only has $6 million guaranteed for the upcoming season, although he'd make $12.25 million if he remained on the books for the entire year, per Spotrac.com. At what point does the guarantee kick in? 

It's earlier than you might think. 

All NBA base salaries become guaranteed on January 10, which means that teams have until 5 p.m. ET on January 7 to release players so that they have time to clear waivers. That leaves Cleveland with just over three months of the season to determine whether it wants to pay Bynum the full amount or the discounted half-off price. 

What if he misses some of that time? 

If Bynum hasn't been cleared for contact and most likely won't be ready for training camp, it's by no means out of the realm of possibilities that he could miss some of the season. And that's cutting short an already limited time frame for evaluation. 

Worse yet, what if he's still waiting to suit up for the first time when the calendars flip over to January? Can Cleveland invest another $6 million in a player who hasn't played in way more than just a single season?

Then, the questions become even more important after 2013-14 draws to a close. Assuming that Bynum is still on the roster, the Cavs are then looking at a $12.54 million decision. 

If he's not waived by the middle of July, his contract becomes fully guaranteed for the 2014-15 campaign, and that's a rather hefty hit. 

Basically, the first major reason that Cleveland can't play the waiting game with Bynum is that there isn't enough time to do so. Each minute draws the franchise closer to an important deadline. 


Other Options Are Ready to Play

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Anthony Bennett #15 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Cavs can't afford to upset any major rotation pieces in the hopes of appeasing an uncertainty. 

At the moment, the frontcourt rotation looks massively overcrowded. 

In a typical NBA game, 96 minutes are allotted to power forwards and centers. And yet, there are far too few minutes to dole out to Cleveland's bevy of big men, just based on the playing time they received during the 2012-13 season. 

PlayerMinutes Per Game
Tristan Thompson31.3
Anthony Bennett (at UNLV)27.1
Anderson Varejao36.0
Tyler Zeller26.4

Oh look. That's already adding up to 120.8 minutes per game, and that's before Bynum is even given a single minute. It's also not factoring in guys like Earl Clark who will undoubtedly spend some time at the 4. 

So, who will feel the biggest losses when the former Los Angeles Laker and Philadelphia 76er returns to action? The minutes will likely come at the expense of everyone, except potentially Tristan Thompson, and that's not going to make for a happy crowd. 

All of these guys are ready to play. 

Even Anthony Bennett, the reigning No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, is prepared to take on a significant role for the Cavs if the need should arise. 

Depth can be a bad thing when there's too much of it, especially when the player waiting to take over is unproven and has taken forever to earn a spot in the rotation. 


Need for a Culture Change

DENVER - DECEMBER 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in action against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 19, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. James scored a game high 33 points as the Cavaliers defeated the Nuggets 105-88.  (Photo
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

There are few organizations that are more in need of a turnaround than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Well, than any Cleveland sports team in general, I suppose. 

The Cavs were competitive in the early 1990s, but then they fell off the map until LeBron James brought them back into the spotlight. Although James never led his hometown team to a title, it was highly relevant each and every year and made a trip to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. 

But Dan Gilbert's front office could never make the right acquisitions, and we had to witness the infamous "Decision," at which LeBron announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach. 

Everyone in Cleveland was stunned, but they weren't shocked. Residents of the beleaguered sports city have simply come to expect the worst. 

And while Kyrie Irving has the team on the up, it's still not a title contender. Hoping for a playoff appearance is as good as it gets right now. 

The problem is that the pessimistic mentality doesn't just belong to fans of the Cavs. It's an omnipresent belief at this point, and Cleveland—on a worldwide scale now—is associated rather heavily with sports futility and letdowns. 

That doesn't make it easy to lure in high-profile free agents, especially because Cleveland doesn't offer the large market of a Los Angeles- or New York-based team. 

Things have to start going well, and drawing out the Bynum saga just further promotes the air of incompetence. It would simply be the most Cleveland thing ever to hold on to hope and pay Bynum his full 2013-14 salary when he in no way deserves it. 

I'm sorry, but there's just no other way to describe it. 

And again, that's the problem. 

Bynum is a crucial figure because he gives the general perception of the downtrodden franchise an ability to change. If his knees work, the Cavaliers will actually be a competitive, up-and-coming squad. And if they don't, they can simply cut ties and prove that they're able to make the right decisions. 

But playing the waiting game when it doesn't make sense to do so? 

That would end the pursuit of LeBron and/or any other big-name player before it officially starts. 


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