Andrew Bynum and the word "if" seem to go together like milk and cookies.
As in, "Man, Bynum could be the best center in the game if he could stay healthy."
Or, "The Cavaliers could make a run in the playoffs if Bynum can return to form."
With Bynum, a former All-Star center with the Los Angeles Lakers, "if" is a strong and dangerous word.
Cleveland rolled the dice when they signed Bynum this summer. Dangling a potential $24 million is a lot of dough for someone who didn't play a single game last season, and still has no clear goal of when he'll return this year.
Here's how the Cavs can get Bynum back on track, you know, if those knees do finally heal.
Step One: Don't Rush
The latest on Bynum comes to us from the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer with news from general manager Chris Grant.
#Cavs GM Chris Grant says Andrew Bynum has worked hard and made significant progress but there is no actual timetable for his return— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) September 24, 2013
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal also shares news from head coach Mike Brown.
Mike Brown said Andrew Bynum is running on treadmills, still not cleared for contact. Still believes Bynum can return to being elite center— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) September 23, 2013
Running on a treadmill after bilateral arthroscopic knee surgery is certainly an encouraging sign, even if it's not the equivalent of banging bodies with other NBA centers.
Cleveland has never set a timetable for Bynum to be back, and that's OK.
In eight NBA seasons, Bynum has missed a whopping 248 games, not including playoffs.
That's 248 out of a possible 640 regular season games, or 38.7 percent of the time Bynum has spent watching the game instead of playing it.
Given what we now know about Bynum's injury history coupled with the fact he hasn't appeared in a game since May 21, 2012, it would be a very, very bad idea to rush him back on the court.
Bynum is kind of like Cleveland's new Innerbelt Bridge. We keep seeing construction progress day by day, but no one would dare drive across it yet in it's current condition.
Like the bridge, Bynum is building his body back to suitable shape. Rushing or stopping short of needed rehabilitation time could just result in added setbacks, something neither Bynum nor the Cavs could stand let happen.
Another reason not to rush Bynum back is the return of Anderson Varejao, who was enjoying a career year last season before splitting a muscle in his leg. Varejao, at the very least, has proven he can stay healthy for the first couple months of the season. He and Tyler "Krispy Kreme" Zeller are more than capable of handling center duties for the time being.
Cleveland holds Bynum's rights for the next two seasons, and should view him as a multi-year project.
Rushing his return would be pointless.
Step Two: Bring Bynum Off the Bench
Over the course of his career, Bynum has started 300 of his 392 games.
Clearly he's a starter in the long term, but for now, Cleveland would be wise to ease him back into playing shape by letting him shake off the rust against other team's second string.
Think of it as a Major League Baseball player beginning a rehab stint in the minors before he returns to the big league club.
Bynum could work on getting his touch, position, stamina and confidence back against, say, Cole Aldrich instead of Tyson Chandler.
Five to 10 games coming off the bench with low minutes would be a nice return to NBA action. Mike Brown doesn't want to put pressure on Bynum with a starting job and 30-plus minutes a night right away.
Getting Bynum back to the court will be easy compared to keeping him on it.
A short stint of reserve work should help to do just that.
Step Three: Develop Chemistry with Kyrie
For Bynum, Kyrie Irving should become his new best friend.
This friendship should also be a two-way street, with Irving greatly benefiting by having a post presence like Bynum to dump the ball down to.
In seven years with the Lakers, the best point guard Bynum had to work with was an over-the-hill Derek Fisher.
Irving may be a tad bit of an improvement.
Bynum isn't the type of player who needs 20 shots a game to be successful, but the Cavs do have to make sure he gets his touches in the paint.
This responsibility falls primary on Irving, who averaged just 5.9 assists per game last season. By making sure Bynum gets the ball, and hopefully connecting on a few alley-oops, Irving and Bynum will both see their production rise.
While playing with Irving as much as possible would be a plus for Bynum, he also needs to put his ego aside and realize that this is Irving's team.
Irving-to-Bynum is a phrase all Cavs fans should hope to hear a lot of this season, and in coming years as well.
Step Four: Keep Bynum by the Basket
Bynum is one of the last true centers in the NBA today.
He has a strong post game, can back down opponents and uses a power dribble to establish position.
Despite all of these strengths, Bynum can sometimes forget he's not that great of a shooter from anywhere outside the paint.
Take a look at his 2011-12 shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
When Bynum stays home underneath the basket, he's money.
When he steps out to 3-9 feet and beyond, not so much.
There is no inbetween for Bynum. According to HoopData.com, Bynum converted 73.2 percent of his shots at the rim. From 3-9 feet, this number drops all the way down to 42.6 percent. From 10-15 feet away it gets even worse, with only a 26.5 percent conversion rate.
Mike Brown even benched Bynum once for attempting (poorly) to shoot a three-pointer with a nearly-full shot clock, a shot he's made exactly one time in 392 games.
Bynum needs to leave the outside shooting to players like Irving, Dion Waiters and Sergey Karasev and instead focus on doing his work underneath the basket.
Step Five: Be Ready Come Playoff Time
Besides a nasty postgame, Bynum brings a lot of playoff experience to the young Cavaliers.
In total, Bynum has been part of six Lakers' playoff teams, including two championship squads in 2008-09 and 2009-10. He's played in 74 postseason games, starting 63.
This season for Cleveland is all about the playoffs. Period.
The rebuilding phase is over after three long, strenuous years. Irving and Tristan Thompson are entering their third season, Waiters and Zeller have a year under their belts and veterans Varejao and Jarrett Jack are ready to win now.
It doesn't matter what Bynum is doing for the Cavs in November, but rather April, May and June that's important.
For people waiting to see if Bynum signing in Cleveland was a success, they need only look at how far the Cavs made it in in the playoffs, should they indeed reach.
For Bynum and the Cavaliers, that certainly is a big "if."