NBA Rumors: Examining Best Possible Fits for Andrew Bynum

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Dec 23, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum reacts in the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

There is something clinical about the way the Chicago Bulls traded for and then dumped Andrew Bynum like an unwanted one-night stand, but the coldness of the situation should be a clear indicator to Bynum of where he stands among NBA teams.

This space has been used to discuss the internal reasons the Cavs and Bulls made the deal, but not yet to discuss the toxicity of Bynum's name at this juncture. Kevin Draper of The Diss did an excellent job of highlighting the unfair way Bynum has been treated, and I refuse to delve into the specifics of a man's personality when I do not know him on a personal level.

But it's at least noteworthy that his reputation has folks wearing hazmat suits.

The Bulls and Cavaliers used him as a commodity. He was a golden-goose contract, not an asset as a player. The days of us discussing Bynum becoming the NBA's best center are still less than two years old, but they are dead and buried deeper than any trite narrative on LeBron James' "clutchness."

ESPN's Chris Broussard reported Wednesday that eight teams have expressed interest in Bynum's services. Those franchises were not named outside of the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, but each interested team will approach Bynum with trepidation.

Only contenders or wannabe contenders are applying here. They will need to know Bynum is committed not only to increasing his bottom line and stat line but also knowing his new NBA role—backup big man—and keeping his mouth Ziploc'd about it. Where Bynum goes remains to be seen, and the process will probably last at least into the weekend.

That said, there are three suitors that stick out as obvious fits. 


Los Angeles Clippers

Dec 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) high fives center DeAndre Jordan (6) after a play against the Golden State Warriors during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sp
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

From every possible angle, a return to Los Angeles represents the best possible fit.

Not only does a potential signing allow Bynum a chance at being somewhere he's comfortable, but the Clippers already have a gaping hole in the middle in need of repair.

The popular theory coming into 2013-14, of which I was a subscriber, was that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan could not anchor a championship interior. Both are freakishly athletic and have made numerous strides in their game (Griffin especially), but the duo's propensity for gambling and low IQ on defense would be exposed in a seven-game playoff series.

The results of that theory have been a mixed bag. Griffin and Jordan started out the season as a worst-case nightmare. The latter in particular was one of the game's worst rim-protectors, with his supposed statistical leap coming more because of an increase in minutes, not actual improvement.

While Jordan still isn't perfect by any stretch, opponents are shooting 52.2 percent at the rim against him through Tuesday night, a marked improvement from his early-season swoon in the low-60s.

Dec 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes (40) shoots the ball against Los Angeles Clippers center Ryan Hollins (15) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Griffin and Jordan have the statistical profile of a championship-contending middle. Opposing teams are scoring 100.3 points per 100 possessions when the big men share the floor, putting them even slightly ahead of the eighth-ranked season-long rate. We're yet to see whether that can translate in May and June, but Doc Rivers' rigid system, learned from former assistant Tom Thibodeau, has worked wonders.

The dumpster fire begins when these two get separated.

Per NBA Wowy, opposing teams average 1.07 points per possession when Griffin is on the floor without Jordan, a rate that would rank in concert with the Kings' 29th-ranked outfit. With Jordan on and Griffin off, the Clippers rank worse than the bottom-feeding Jazz.

The problem is as simple as the day is long: Perhaps no contender has worse backup bigs than the Clips.

Any lineup that features Byron Mullens is asking to be scored on at will, and though Ryan Hollins is a willing defender, he gets pushed around and hasn't grasped Rivers' concepts as much as anyone would like.

Here is where you tell me Bynum is a terrible defender, and I agree. Whatever athleticism he had in his lumbering body has been sapped by injuries, and asking him to hedge hard against a pick is asking for pure misery. We'll get to that in a second when discussing Bynum's fit in Miami—or lack thereof.

But Rivers' system rarely calls for hard hedges. He prefers big men to drop a step or two defending the pick-and-roll, often hanging just above the elbow or, at the very least, a step inside the three-point line. Jordan and Griffin have the athleticism for the occasional hard hedge, and Rivers will break that out when needed in ways he couldn't with Bynum.

Dropping back, on the other hand, is perhaps the only way Bynum could adequately defend pick-and-rolls at this point, and he was still quietly a solid rim protector in Cleveland. He averaged 1.2 blocks per game, and opposing players were shooting a piddly 37.5 percent against him at the rim—third-best among players facing three or more rim attempts a night.

Bynum isn't a perfect fit anywhere, but this is as close as it gets. It's just too bad they have no interest, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.


Miami Heat

Jan 7, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) reacts after falling on the court during the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 107-88. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sp
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a little bit more skeptical on this fit than most. Popular theory has become that you stick any damn player in the world with LeBron James and suddenly he begins realizing his talent. Michael Beasley has been a revelation this year and is one of the better first-half stories, and James made Mo Williams an All-Star once upon a time; anything is possible.

There has also been this undercurrent prevalent since last year's Eastern Conference Finals that the Heat need someone to defend Roy Hibbert in the playoffs. Hibbert torched Miami in Indiana's near-victory and seemingly comes alive offensively against the defending champs despite being wholly mediocre against the other 28 teams.

With the team's other offseason flier, Greg Oden, yet to step on the floor, the handwringing is becoming painfully obvious.

Why not Bynum?

Well, basketball reasons for one. Remember how Rivers' defensive system helps hide Bynum's plodding by allowing him to drop deep in pick-and-rolls? Erik Spoelstra's is exactly the same—except the complete opposite.

If you have watched the Heat over the Big Three era, you're familiar with their swarming-bee mentality on defense. Equipped with freakish athletes all over the floor, no team attacks the pick-and-roll more aggressively and few execute their game plans better.

The Heat are leading the NBA in opponent turnover ratio at a jarring 18.8 percent, a rate that would be the highest since 1998-99, also known as the dreadfully sloppy post-Jordan lockout season.

Everyone on this team buys into the all-attack defense. Watching closely, it's easy to tell when the team is taking a "championship rest," because the traps are a step or two late, less urgent when they get there, and the hustle getting back is lacking.

When Miami is locked in, though, there is no more impressive defensive team in the league outside Indiana.

In some ways, that would make Bynum an oil-water mix. He's way too slow to handle any of Spoelstra's defensive schemes. It would be a nightmare seeing him chase opposing point guards out beyond the three-point stripe, and Bynum's struggles passing out of the post make an interesting fit with the Heat's preference to avoid staid, static offense.

Dec 10, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum (21) catches a pass in front of New York Knicks power forward Andrea Bargnani (77) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

That said, Miami has nothing to lose in this situation.

Oden is already on the roster, and if Bynum can't handle the trap-heavy scheme, someone almost a half-decade removed from competitive hoops sure as hell can't. Unless it was a charity signing, the Heat have a plan in place to incorporate a traditional big man.

Grantland's Zach Lowe did a nice job of highlighting how Spoelstra is already experimenting with new wrinkles defensively. In their last meeting with Indiana, the Heat at times dropped their bigs to the elbow instead of hedging hard or trapping—a slightly more aggressive version of the Thibodeau scheme. The Heat and Pacers have played each other so many times that adjustments are going to be needed in their inevitable matchup this postseason.

Bynum might not wind up helping, but what exactly is the point in not kicking the tires? Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld notes that the Heat are interested, so Pat Riley might already be ahead of us. Again.


New York Knicks

Jan 5, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; New York Knicks power forward Kenyon Martin (3) and small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) walk on to the court to face the Dallas Mavericks during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Anthony leads team with 19 points
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This one is simple: I enjoy having fun watching professional basketball. And not all types of fun are the traditional Spursian beauty of ball movement or LeBron in transition or Stephen Curry going absolutely bonkers in a fourth quarter.

Sometimes fun is merely hacking up a lung laughing at the misfortune of an increasingly desperate franchise.

The Knicks are our laughingstock of 2013-14. They aren't as bad as Milwaukee, as dreadfully boring to watch as Chicago or even as preposterously confusing as the nights the Lakers look awesome, but they are our gigglefest nonetheless.

The Knicks are #BARGS. They are being fined $50,000 for untying a shoelace. They are Mike Woodson's nonsensical rotations, Carmelo Anthony crunch-time isolations and a screaming nightly reminder to avoid trading first-round picks. This team employs Carmelo, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Metta World Peace and once employed Chris Smith, J.R.'s brother, for reasons that remain wholly inexplicable.

Is it not destiny that three-pointer jacking, 10-7 splitting Andrew Bynum winds up on this roster? Or, even if it isn't destiny, would it not make your life roughly 37 percent better? That's what I thought.

Now, there are some reasons unrelated to our entertainment worth mentioning.

The Knicks' interior defense has, as always, been a mess when Tyson Chandler sits or is out with injury. Bynum is an immediate improvement over the likes of Bargnani and Martin, the former being bewilderingly incompetent at executing basic schemes and the latter being tough and strong but unable to handle such a workload at his age.

Bynum is a real, competent backup center in this league. And even though adding another inconsistent personality to the locker room might make Woodson's job even more difficult, dude hasn't exactly done a great job thus far anyway.

The Knicks are a 12-22 nightly calamity. It's unclear whether Woodson has stopped preaching consistency in his defensive schemes or the players just aren't executing, but this team needs some infusion of talent that isn't a low-reward talent like Toure Murry or Jeremy Tyler (though I like both to a certain extent).

Short of trading Anthony and blowing it all up—the correct move but one that would get instantly vetoed by James Dolan—this is about the best alternative. As Sean Deveney of Sporting News notes, however, the interest may not be mutual. 


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