Andrew Bynum is not only rehabbing his way through injuries for an opportunity to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, he is also working to capitalize on a final chance to redeem his career.
Despite Bynum's relatively young age, not scheduled to turn 26 until later this month, his NBA future is very much at a crossroads. If he is not able to step onto the floor for the Cavaliers and produce for a considerable portion of the 2013-14 campaign, he may have signed his last guaranteed contract of any real significance.
After missing all of 2012-13 with the Philadelphia 76ers due to knee injuries, Cleveland appeared to be the only team willing to invest in Bynum this summer. The incentive-laden deal that guaranteed $6 million with options that could pay as much as $24 million over two years, however, is a far cry from the type of dollars he expected to command as an All-Star with the Los Angeles Lakers.
While Bynum won't be asked to post the type of numbers he did in Los Angeles, he will be required to compete and make an impact during the second half of the season to prove his value moving forward. If he can accomplish that much as a difference-maker for the Cavs, he could be playing himself toward a significant contract just as soon as his tenure in Cleveland is over.
Final Chance For Significant Guaranteed Dollars
Like Greg Oden and the one-year contract he signed recently with the Miami Heat, Andrew Bynum will be afforded NBA comeback opportunities for the next several years regardless of how things go in Cleveland.
If Bynum is hoping to max out his options with the Cavs by earning all of the $24 million possible, however—along with generating significant interest for his next free-agent deal—he will need to produce sooner than later.
By returning to the NBA hardwood in Cleveland as a contributor, all that was lost for Bynum in Philadelphia could become a distant memory.
If a 7-footer can prove he is able to run up and down the floor, while also getting along with his teammates and doing his best to execute the game plan, there is usually a place for him in this league. If that 7-footer is also able to demonstrate 70 percent of the skills and effectiveness that Bynum once did in Los Angeles, he quickly becomes a highly-coveted commodity.
Bynum Demonstrating Signs of Progress in Cleveland
Cleveland Jackson from StepienRules.com took this picture and others prior to the Cavaliers' preseason game last Thursday, highlighting the current status of Bynum's health.
The Associated Press also reported that Bynum is "playing in 3-on-3 games and is close to practicing with his new team."
This comes on the heels of overwhelming praise from the Cavs organization and training staff regarding the work that Bynum has put in since arriving in Cleveland and continues to provide reason for optimism.
With every day that passes, it seems even more likely that the former All-Star could be stepping onto the court in a Cavaliers uniform much sooner than people expect.
So When Can We Actually Expect Bynum To Play?
As a Cavaliers fan, it is safe to prepare yourself for the expectation that Bynum is playing significant minutes just after the All-Star break. As a gambler, however, I am extremely tempted to suggest that Bynum could be back as early as game No. 20.
What will be ultimately weighed in this decision is whether Bynum is not only able to play, but actually able to help the Cavaliers win with his contributions.
As I stood courtside on Thursday observing his pregame work, it certainly appeared that Bynum wasn't too far from being able to get himself through a game right now. It will be up to the Cavaliers, though, to project when he can do so while making a winning impact.
What Bynum Must Accomplish To Redeem His Career
For Bynum, it isn't as important exactly when he begins the season so much as how he finishes it.
If he is able to compete at a relatively high level during the second half of the season while appearing in a minimum of 40 games, that will be a major step forward.
If Bynum is also able average 13 points and eight rebounds while making an impact on the defensive end with his shot-blocking and presence around the rim, that could have him earning mega-dollars on his next contract.
In the meantime, however, if Bynum suffers an unfortunate setback during his recovery that prevents him from playing in Cleveland at all, that could prove devastating for his career.