Standing seven feet tall and weighing far more than his advertised 285, Andrew Bynum arrived in Cleveland this summer as a giant enigma wrapped in a riddle. The two-time NBA champion hasn't played since the 2011-12 season. The basketball community continues to watch and wait, with some hope and growing cynicism.
The regular season is here, once again. Recent rumors suggested that Bynum might be close to practicing with the team. That was about a week ago. The Cavaliers could use him if he's healthy. It's always the knock on Bynum. He brings a ton of baggage with him—lousy knees and debatable desire.
As for Cleveland's other centers, perennial crowd favorite Anderson Varejao is back after missing a major portion of last season with multiple surgeries. Unlike Bynum, Varejao has played in each of the preseason games. No one ever questions his commitment to the game. Meanwhile, second-year man Tyler Zeller recently had an appendectomy. No timetable has been set for his return.
The hope is that Andrew Bynum can revert to All-Star form. The cynicism has much to do with a strange year in Philadelphia, notable more for his sublimely coiffed hair than anything else. Bynum never actually managed to get on the basketball court, although he did get some bowling in.
They say the past can inform the future. In that case, you have to journey back to Los Angeles. That's where Bynum's entire body of pro basketball work occurred.
Taken No. 10 the 2005 draft, the 17-year-old was huge and raw. Laker executive Jim Buss relentlessly championed the kid, but in truth, Ronnie Lester was the one who scouted him. Lester was later dumped by Buss as part of an organizational bloodletting.
Bynum's years with the Purple and Gold were uneven. He was tutored by Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and developed a monster low-post game. He was plagued however by injury. Bynum dislocated a kneecap in 2008 and tore his MCL the following season. He tore his meniscus in the 2010. Still, he helped power the team to back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
If you're looking at stats, Bynum's best year in the land of the locusts was without zen master Phil.
Interestingly, he was coached by Mike Brown during the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12. Brown of course, is now back on terra firma in Cleveland. As for the numbers, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 boards and nearly two blocks per game. He was also named an All-Star that season, scoring zero points in six minutes due to knee pain. Kobe Bryant must have snickered.
For now, the season stands as Andrew Bynum's last actual on-court testimony. And when he was on his game he was a beast. Check out the 10 blocks, one night against Denver:
On June 4, 2012, management exercised their $16.1 million option on Bynum for the following season. A month later, he was traded to Philadelphia as part of a four-team blockbuster that sent Andre Iguodala to Denver, with Dwight Howard exiting Orlando and entering an ill-fated one-year courtship with the Lakers.
Bynum never played in Philadelphia and eventually underwent double-knee arthroscopic surgery. His absence basically cost the 76ers their season. The team's CEO eventually apologized to frustrated fans for the debacle.
The question in Cleveland is one of both physical and mental health. The monstrosity of a leg brace that he's always lugged up and down the court gives a perfect picture of the health question. And then, you have to wonder how much he really wants to play. It has often been said that his true passion is building computers, not the game of basketball.
There will almost always be a team willing to gamble on health and size, even the kind of baggage that Bynum brings. The various option stages in Bynum's new contract means he has to jump through some major hoops in order to collect all $24 million over a two-year period. The problem is, Bynum can't really jump any more, and when he does, you hold your breath and wince.
There's three possible roads ahead for Cleveland's new center. Number one, injuries could persist and he might barely play. No. 2, he could play, but injuries might nag and hinder, much as they did with Dwight Howard last season. And finally, there's the eternal optimist's point of view. Bynum could return to the form that once made him one of the league's truly dominant forces.
There's always, of course, a road in-between. Bynum's no dummy. He's banked a lot of coin during his injury-hampered career, and he stands to make more if he plays his cards right. He could see this clause-ridden contract as, essentially, a season of contract years.
Andrew Bynum will be just 26 years old on October 27. When he's right, he's a dominant low-post force in the league. The question for Cleveland fans this season is simple. Is Bynum looking to be a player again? Or will the Cavs get played?