It's quickly becoming a matter of when, not if, the Cleveland Cavaliers will part ways with disgruntled center Andrew Bynum.
Per an official team release on Cavs.com, Bynum "has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team...and has been excused from all team activities indefinitely."
The Cavs are reportedly now searching for trade partners and will likely waive him before his 2013-14 contract becomes fully guaranteed for $12.25 million on Jan. 10 if they can't find any takers, via the News-Herald's Bob Finnan.
His trade value, assuming he has any at all, can't be high.
Knee injuries cost him the entire 2012-13 season. Although he's been healthy enough to make 24 appearances this season, he looks nothing like the player fans remember. He's averaging just 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20 minutes a night, and his field-goal percentage, 41.9, has plummeted to its lowest rate since his rookie season.
Any return on these damaged goods will be a win for Cleveland.
With that said, Bynum's replacement—or rather the replacement of the idea of what Bynum could have been—won't come from outside the franchise. The Cavs will have to find rim protection, low-post offense and interior dominance from within their roster.
Who Guards the Rim?
Even with alarm sirens accompanying his arrival to Cleveland this summer, the excitement around the signing was undeniable:
No one knew exactly which player the Cavs were getting, but the hype bordered on uncontrollable. If Bynum found his form, Cleveland was getting something it hadn't had in a long time.
A lot of somethings, actually. Chief among them was rim protection, a fitting addition for a franchise that had just handed the reins back over to defensive-minded coach Mike Brown.
A lack of explosiveness had limited Bynum's ability as a shot-blocker (he owns a good-not-great career 1.6 blocks average). But just his intimidating 7'0", 285-pound frame was enough to change shots at the rim—or stop them from being attempted altogether.
Even in his current state, Bynum was still a force at the basket.
Among all defenders facing at least 3.5 field-goal attempts at the rim this season, the 26-year-old was holding shooters to the fourth-worst field-goal percentage (37.6). For comparison's sake, that's a lower mark than Defensive Player of the Year candidates Roy Hibbert (41.3), Anthony Davis (44.2) and DeAndre Jordan (53.2) allowed.
It's also nearly 20 percentage points lower than what Anderson Varejao, Cleveland's only other defender facing that many interior shots, had yielded (56.0).
That's what made Bynum (almost) worth the risk. And it's what (apparently) will leave a gaping void in Cleveland's interior.
This roster has the components of defending the rim. Unfortunately, they're split among several different players.
Tristan Thompson has the most physical tools to take over that assignment. He has a good combo of length (7'1" wingspan) and athleticism. But his lack of size—he's 6'9" and 238 pounds—limits what kind of impact he can make. After turning back exactly one shot a night in his rookie season, he's failed to match even that number since (0.9 in 2012-13, 0.5 this season).
Varejao has better size than Thompson (6'11", 267 pounds) and a motor that hasn't stalled at any point during his 10-year career. He even has a strong defensive base to his game, but it's built around savvy and quickness. He's more liable to draw an offensive foul or crowd a passing lane than send an opponent's shot into the stands.
Tyler Zeller has the most height of the trio (7'0"), but he's had trouble keeping his 250-pound frame from getting pushed around. One could argue that he hasn't had the chance to showcase that ability—he's seeing just 8.2 minutes a night—but being bothered by physicality is a criticism dating back to his college days.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the Cavs don't have a way of replacing rim protection. But, just as if Bynum were injured and not suspended, this means that everyone on the roster needs to pick up the slack.
If drives will no longer be stopped at the rim, Cleveland needs to keep those penetrations to a minimum. That means staying in front of a matchup, rotating on time and never sacrificing defensive position.
This will be the biggest challenge that the Cavs have to face while moving on from this disastrous experiment.
Unfortunately, though, it's not the only one.
Where Does the Interior Scoring Come From?
Again, it probably doesn't come. If the Cavs had a legitimate post presence, they wouldn't have made this gamble to begin with.
But this might not be the problem that it sounds like.
The less time this team spends running post isolations, the better off it will be.
The Cavs weren't built to support a back-to-the-basket scorer—probably because before this season, they never had one to build around.
Post scoring isn't dead, but it takes a special kind of team to use it effectively in today's game. There is no greater support for low-post play than a strong perimeter attack. Cleveland's collection of shooters is simply mediocre (35.6 percent, 13th overall).
Throwing up three-balls around a bruising big is not one of Cleveland's strengths. Where this team shines is spreading the floor for Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to attack, something that should get easier without Bynum.
Irving's a good isolation scorer (0.85 points per possession, 40th overall via SynergySports, subscription required) and a great finisher out of pick-and-roll plays (0.96, fourth). Waiters isn't on Irving's level, but he's found his own share of success in both iso (0.71, 68th) and pick-and-roll (0.77, 67th) sets.
No one has the build to set a screen like Bynum, but Cleveland's other bigs have far more mobility. Thompson's a tremendous leaper, Varejao doesn't mind throwing his weight around, and Zeller works best when he's on the move.
All three, at times, have shown the ability to score away from the basket. The further they can pull defenders out of the paint, the more driving real estate that Irving, Waiters and Jarrett Jack will find to exploit.
Despite Brown's wishes, this team will find the most success at the offensive end. Bynum's loss will hurt defensively, but it's not as if this team was an immovable object when he was playing (104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, 19th overall).
It may never become an unstoppable force, either. But with this type of offensive talent in place, the team should not struggle to score the way it has (98.0 points per 100 possessions, 25th).
So, rather than asking how the Cavs replace Bynum, perhaps the better question is, should they even try?
With the roster built the way it is, the best thing for Cleveland to do is simply wash its hands of the big man and move on without him.
Move on without his replacement, too.
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