Andrew Bynum is the perilous investment that keeps on giving.
First, there was his tumultuous tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, when he meandered between promising and hopeless. Then there was his stint with the Philadelphia 76ers, when he was defined only by his injuries, absence and bowling acumen.
Next, there were the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom he played for but never really bought into.
Now? We're not sure.
Cleveland shipped Bynum, along with three draft picks, to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Luol Deng. The Bulls subsequently waived him, putting him on the open market. It's there his current value will be determined, where his next home will be found.
But after all that's happened the last eight-plus years, we have to ask: Why?
Why would any NBA team willingly pay this living, breathing, walking soap opera of a center?
Bigger Is Sometimes Better
Size sometimes matters more than attitude.
Talented 7-footers, or even towers capable of putting one foot in front of the other without falling flat on their face, are valued in the NBA. They're oftentimes the Association's equivalent of comfort food.
Someone's dangling a slice of pepperoni pizza in your face, dripping with grease and smelling vaguely of charred mozzarella cheese. You know it's not always good for you. That the nitrates in those cured meats are unhealthy. That your stomach lining could pay later.
But you don't care. It looks good, so hopefully it tastes and feels good.
It's the same situation with Bynum, a 26-year-old behemoth less than two years removed from his only All-Star appearance.
Habitual chuckers grow on trees; one-dimensional specialists are a dime a dozen. Herculean centers with a nice touch around the rim who can block shots in tufts are not.
Teams lacking frontcourt depth will be seduced. Franchises hoping for an additional boost will be intrigued. How could they not be? This is the same player who averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in 2011-12. The same one who tallied 15.1, 9.5 and 2.1, respectively, per 36 minutes in limited action this season.
Bynum is big and therefore, shiny. So he will be chased.
Cheaper Is Always Better
Bynum has already been paid $6 million this season, and he's not going to be receiving any multi-year contract offers.
Cleveland's partially guaranteed pact was indicative of current times. Even shortsighted teams flush with cap space aren't foolish enough to peg Bynum for a sizable contract. Wherever Bynum lands, he'll have been nabbed on the cheap.
Money is important to him, per ESPN's Marc Stein, but stacks of it aren't in his future:
As @Chris_Broussard reported earlier, money is among prime factors for Bynum when he chooses his next team after clearing waivers Thursday— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 8, 2014
Among Bynum's priorities, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard, are also playing time and contending for a title. Go figure.
I'm told 8 teams are interested in signing A Bynum, most notably Heat & Clips. Playing time, contender status & $ all factors in decision.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) January 8, 2014
Far be it from me to make sweeping generalizations, but contenders don't usually have much cap space. Their funds are typically invested in, you know, contending. If Bynum really wants to play for a championship team, he'll accept the minimum. Otherwise he'll limit himself to rebuilding and no-man's-land factions, many of which won't offer him more.
Washed up or not, degenerative knees or not, aren't you rolling the dice on a player who can be signed for pennies on the dollar?
What's the Risk?
Funny thing about potential risks: They vary by team.
There is an obvious risk in signing Bynum from a logistics standpoint. Health will always be an issue, and his production is far from guaranteed. But that holds true for everyone. Differing expectation levels and cultures are what separate each and every team.
We saw the downside of having Bynum on a youthful team devoid of strong veteran presences. Kyrie Irving is a superstar, but he's nearly five years Bynum's junior. There was no senior player on the roster who could "control" Bynum. Not even Mike Brown had a handle on the situation.
Throw him in a similar environment, and you run the risk of identical results.
Rebuilding or transitioning teams, even respectable ones like the Boston Celtics, don't have the stable infrastructure, blueprint or pecking order necessary to neutralize Bynum's personality.
4 - Also hearing he'd consider Boston - Celts have expirings/assets to get him (if they wanted him). His ideal teams are Miami/Clips though.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) December 28, 2013
There's always the chance he meshes instantly with a particular coach or group of young players, but after his Cleveland fiasco, inexperienced outfits must be wary of pursuing him.
Same goes for organizations not known for grooming young talent like the New York Knicks, whom ESPN's Brian Windhorst cites as one team interested in signing him.
The Knicks—a playoff team on paper, but embarrassment in the standings—cannot control J.R. Smith, have handled Iman Shumpert's development poorly (to say the least), and are immersed in constant drama. Turbulent locales like New York might not be able to function after bringing in another wild card.
Finally, there are the "Yeah, what the hell?" teams, a select few capable of withstanding any setbacks while boasting the highest possible success rates. Think Miami Heat or Los Angeles Clippers, two other potential destinations Windhorst lists.
The Heat have the league's most nonchalant locker room. Hands down. Composure is their middle name. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are quintessential authority figures, and the Heatles have one fecund reclamation project to their credit this season—Michael Beasley.
With the Clippers, Bynum would be exposed to no-nonsense coaching from Doc Rivers, and a point God who, when healthy, will eviscerate him if he steps out of line in Chris Paul. Playing within that type of dynamic, under that kind of discipline, could do Bynum some good and is enough for Los Angeles to roll the dice without worrying over potential failure.
But those are a select few situations. Most destinations, like the Dallas Mavericks, fall into the previous two categories.
Mavericks, I'm told, are among those eight teams to register interest in free agent-to-be Andrew Bynum. But Mavs only have minimum to offer— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 8, 2014
Certain teams have the luxury of making bold investments while remaining carefree. Others don't.
Full disclosure: I don't want Bynum on my team.
If I'm a general manger or owner, regardless of my franchise's state, I don't want him. As I wrote previously:
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.
[Kevin] 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.
Those against signing Bynum can understand his appeal, and I'm no different. He's big, talented and bigger still. But his attitude doesn't belong on contenders, tankers or any team looking to avoid complete chaos.
It wasn't too long ago that we were questioning whether Bynum would ever play again. Not because of his knees, but because he potentially didn't want to.
About Bynum suspension, league source tells Yahoo: "He doesn't want to play basketball anymore. He never liked it that much in first place."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) December 28, 2013
Stable contenders capable of handling Bynum's duplicity shouldn't even risk it. Not the Heat; not the Clippers, and the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner says the Clips are more likely to pass on Bynum:
Hearing Clips are leaning away from trying to sign Andrew Bynum if he's released by Chicago. Too many issues regarding Bymum from Cleveland— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) January 7, 2014
Red flags abound. If it's not his personality, it's his health. And if it's not his health, it's his drastically lowered ceiling.
"He brings a lot of everything," Brown said of Deng, via the Boston Globe's Tom Withers.
Which type of team is Bynum better off with?
Not Bynum. Deng. Someone actually worth bringing in.
Bynum wasn't having a positive impact on Cleveland's offense or defense. According to NBA.com (subscription required), the Cavs' offensive and defensive ratings were better when he was sidelined.
Projects at least making constructive contributions are one thing; seemingly hapless investments are another. Factor in Bynum's demands—he wants to play for a contender, but how will he react to backing up DeAndre Jordan or being used sparingly in Miami?—and he's just big. And shiny. And only fit for the perfect situation.
Assuming that perfect situation even exists.