Andrew Bynum, Too Injured and Too Free-Spirited for NBA, Should Move On

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Andrew Bynum, Too Injured and Too Free-Spirited for NBA, Should Move On
Derick E. Hingle/USA Today

For all his talents, accomplishments and injuries, here’s the truest scouting report you’ll ever read on Andrew Bynum: Always willing to do…whatever he wants.

It’s saying something that from a winning Los Angeles Lakers talent pool, including the always dramatic Kobe Bryant, renaissance man Pau Gasol, Hollywood husband Lamar Odom, potential presidential candidate Derek Fisher, Ron Metta Artest World Peace and the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson, Bynum took everyone on his own wild ride.

The action has continued through Bynum’s hair-brained, non-playing year with the Philadelphia 76ers and now with the Cleveland Cavaliers fed up with him and ready to cut ties.

Bynum is on one hand refreshingly honest in the way he pursues whatever he finds interesting and desirable, whether intelligent or primal. On the other hand, this is not the kind of guy designed for team sports…or traditional society at large, in many ways.

So it’s no surprise that the Cavaliers, with such a flaccid leader in Mike Brown (who with the Lakers only reaped the 2012 All-Star benefits of Jackson’s prior labor), were not only unable to bring the best out of Bynum, they were unable to mesh him into the framework of a team.

People as strong-minded and widely interested as Bynum need help staying focused on a professional goal, in this case one of lessening attraction to him now that he knows his weak knees will never let him be the star that he has always seen himself to be.

Harry How/Getty Images

It is amazing to think that it was just a year-and-a-half ago when Bryant said reverentially about a peaking Bynum: “He expects greatness out of himself.”

Bynum, 26, is now at a point where his always free spirit has become restless being so limited by his body, which has become just as brittle as the Lakers medical staff expected and leaves Bynum in constant pain on the court.

So what is the point for him here? Bynum proved himself an NBA champion and an All-Star—and now he’s playing limited minutes for a coach who doesn’t understand him on one of the worst teams in the league.

Collecting a paycheck is not what Bynum is about—even if he did with his customary candor say once about trade rumors that there is a bank in every city—so you knew he wasn’t going to be one of these duplicitous guys to make nice for a while just to lock up the rest of his annual salary guaranteed early next month.

Whether the Cavaliers release or trade him now, it’s not going to end well for Bynum.

What he wants from basketball is no longer available to him, and he will be better served moving on—even though his no-filter, no-regret mindset has been one of the NBA’s most fascinating to follow.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Bynum parked in handicapped spots and took us through the UCLA frat house and the Playboy Mansion. He became a walking hair salon in Philly and before that was his own hot spot as “Club 17” (not really a club, but the moniker that resulted from his Lakers uniform number and insanely loud headphones).

In his first NBA interview as the youngest player ever drafted into the league, Bynum accepted the comparison to Shaquille O’Neal and added boldly: “But I hit my free throws.” He was once upon a time called “Socks” by Lakers teammates for being such a raw preps-to-pro project that he wore socks in the shower, and he was called “Big Baby” by the ever-serious Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who tried to coach him personally to grow his game but also act more like a grown man.

He was condemned in a parking-lot video by Bryant, reformed from a slacker to a workout maniac and understood by those truly in the know to be a Lakers hero for playing through pain to win two titles.

Then Bynum delayed offseason surgery (and even got his knee drained to be more mobile) so he wouldn’t be on crutches for vacations to South Africa and Europe before Jackson, in the last great coup in the greatest coaching career, got Bynum to make the leap to seriousness and greatness.

Bynum still ended that season short of a Lakers three-peat and jerkishly flattened J.J. Barea before stripping off that No. 17 Lakers jersey on his way off the court in Dallas.

All along the way, Bynum has been jerkish when he felt like it and endearingly exuberant when he felt like that. Most of the time, Bynum found things that honestly excited him, and he would gush accordingly about those things with multiple “super” adjectives. He was, in short, a self-absorbed and flawed but honest and real person.

And in maybe the most emblematic moment of his career, in the latter stages of the Lakers’ 2009 NBA championship champagne celebration in Orlando’s old arena, Bynum picked up his knee brace and began to throw it in the trashcan before smiling ruefully and pulling it back.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

To his credit, Bynum climbed to the top of the NBA despite being genetically predisposed for his lower body to break down. Yet it was only a matter of time before it did break down—and Bynum got tired of having braces and rehabs propping up a life that for him is happiest when lived freely.

However long Bynum’s career lasts beyond today, it’s already over.

Jackson explained Bynum’s 2011 breakthrough as happening because his mind reached peace with his body: "He's thrown out any concern he has on health issues."

Now? The knees hurt all the time, and he says himself they won’t get any better. It’s over. Never again will Bynum’s powerful, analytical brain be in sync with his body and basketball.

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