Why NBA Title Contenders Must Avoid Gambling on Toxic Andrew Bynum

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Why NBA Title Contenders Must Avoid Gambling on Toxic Andrew Bynum
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Not all beetling risks are worth taking.

Andrew Bynum, not two years removed from his first All-Star appearance, has become one of those dangers, meandering about haphazardly, a shell of his former self both mentally and physically.

Or should I say his flitting self? What we're seeing from Bynum now is more par for his course.

The Cleveland Cavaliers announced earlier that they suspended the big man, excusing him "from all team activities indefinitely," for conduct detrimental to the organization. A league source also told The News-Herald's Bob Finnan Cleveland would look to trade Bynum before it waived him by Jan. 7, when his contract became fully guaranteed.

Since news of the rift between he and the Cavs broke, a number of contending teams have been cited as potential destinations. After all, what's the risk for a franchise already thinking championship? One that's already on the cusp of greatness?

Really, we should be asking: What's the return?

The Bynum we saw in 2011-12, the engaged All-Star worthy of headlining a trade for Dwight Howard, is gone. Finished. Replaced by a toxic version of squandered potential that was once considered growing pain.

Years ago, he was worth gambling on. Now, even for model NBA franchises, Bynum just isn't worth the trouble.

 

Why He's Appealing

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

He's tall. And sometimes sports peculiar haircuts. But mostly the tall thing.

Talented 7-footers are rare in today's NBA, where stretch forwards, dual-point guard lineups and small ball have become standard. That's why centers with any upside at all are repeatedly given shelter in exchange for their size (see Greg Oden with the Miami Heat). As long as you're tall and somewhat coordinated, the NBA has a home for you.

Bynum hasn't been an exception. After sitting out the entire 2012-13 campaign, and clad with an extensive history, Cleveland still felt secure handing him a contract worth up to $12 million annually. The Cavs wisely incentivized his deal, but still, you wouldn't see a point guard in his situation paid as handsomely.

That's the other thing: Bynum won't simply be valued for his size anymore; teams will be seduced by his affordability.

Legitimately interested outfits won't trade for Bynum, not unless they sense that's the only way he would play for them. More likely, they'll wait the Cavs out, hoping he hits the open market after Jan. 7—which he could still do even if he's traded.

As the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd notes, interest in Bynum is financially driven:

No team that actually wants Bynum is likely to trade for him because his contract for this season becomes guaranteed for $12 million after Jan. 7. But a team trying to get under the luxury tax threshold of $71.7 million could trade a hefty salary to the Cavs for Bynum and release him prior to Jan. 7, while Bynum’s cap figure can be reduced to $6 million.

Bynum could then clear waivers, become a free agent and sign with another team for the league minimum.

That, right there, is why Bynum will be so appealing. Contending factions aren't typically rife with cap flexibility. Signing a player like Bynum on the cheap seems like a no-brainer for championship teams looking to add depth, hence the destinations already being tossed around.

But just because someone sticks something shiny and aesthetically appealing in your face doesn't mean it won't burn your eyes.

 

Numbers Don't Quite Add Up

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Discounted salaries are nice; productive players are even better.

At this point of his career, Bynum isn't a productive player. The fact he's playing at all is his real accomplishment.

Bynum is averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 20 minutes, most of which are respectable numbers. The biggest concern? His 20 minutes per game.

Bynum has averaged more than 30 minutes a night only twice in his career, and his conditioning this season has been spotty at best. Though teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Heat wouldn't intend to use him extensively, rolling the dice on an entitled tower not accustomed to being a marginal role player isn't foolproof.

Playing effectively in short bursts isn't easy. It takes time to develop a rhythm and, for most, to make a positive impact. Bynum has yet to master the art of targeted production. 

According to NBA.com (subscription required), Cleveland offensive and defensive efficiency are better when Bynum is on the bench, which is saying something when you consider the Cavs rank 26th and 18th in each category, respectively. Bynum's individual defensive rating (106) also ties a career high, while his offensive rating (96) is the lowest it's been since he was a rookie.

Overall, the Cavs are being outscored by 11.8 points per 100 possessions with Bynum on the floor compared to only 3.3 without him.

If you're a contending team, why even bother signing a potential basket case who hasn't shown an ability to make even an inferior squad like the Cavs better?

 

Attitude

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

More than money and even statistics, Bynum's greatest pitfall is his attitude. 

Since entering the league, Bynum has been largely unsolvable, showing glimpses of promise and greatness only before eventually falling victim to his own complex flaws. 

Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, who covered Bynum for many years while he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, puts it best:

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.

...

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.

Calling Bynum disinterested and lethargic doesn't do the multiplicity of his character justice. This is a player who has always danced to the beat of his own drum and hasn't accepted himself for what he's become.

Ding writes that Bynum's body is still in pain, any possibility of an injury-free future dead. But this is what Bynum doesn't understand. He's not the player he once was, or even the one he was thought to be. And he never will be.

Chronic knee injuries won't suddenly disappear. On some level, his body will always betray him. Until he accepts reality and embraces life outside the superstar bubble, he is not only useless to employers, he's potentially detrimental.

Nothing we've seen, read or heard suggests Bynum is ready to take that next step. His demeanor implies the opposite. Grounded players aren't exerting leverage they have no right to exercise.

Playing this perfectly? List of preferred destinations in mind?

This saga exists like a superstar lies at the heart of it, but there isn't one to be found. There is only Bynum, narcissistic and self-absorbed by nature, possibly turned off by basketball altogether.

Look at a team like the Miami Heat, who, through the wonderful perspective Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick consistently provides, boast perhaps the most poised and stable locker room in the NBA. Why put that chemistry, that balance at risk?

That goes for every contender, not just the Heat.

Is Andrew Bynum worth the risk for a contending team?

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Miami already put its dynamic at risk with Michael Beasley, and while that experiment has worked, why risk it again? Why should any team chasing something worthwhile place faith, however cheap it comes, in a two-time champion who hasn't exuded enough maturity, interest or drive to win a third?

"When I worked with Andrew I found him to be bright & hardworking but I think he got bored with the repetitive nature of working on basketball fundamentals day in and day out...but they are the keys to long term success," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote on his Facebook.

Keys that championship contingents need. Keys that Bynum seemingly doesn't have and maybe, doesn't even want.

 

*All stats used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required), and salary information obtained via ShamSports, unless otherwise noted.

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