The Major Problems with Signing Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum-palooza has been anti-climatic.
ESPN's Marc Stein says a number of teams remain interested in signing the 7-footer, who most recently played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but notes this has become a slow-moving process:
The race to sign Andrew Bynum appears to be unfolding at a slower pace than Bynum hoped.
The 26-year-old became a free agent Thursday night after clearing waivers, but the latest rumblings on the league's personnel grapevine suggest that more teams are backing away from the idea as opposed to gambling on the talented but undependable 7-footer.
The snail-like pace of this saga is further proof Bynum isn't as highly regarded as he once was. What happened in Cleveland severely damaged his stock, and it shows.
Plenty of teams have been linked to the 26-year-old, but no one has taken an actual bite. And who could blame them? At this stage of his injury-riddled career, Bynum isn't a sure thing in any aspect of the game. Not mentally, not physically.
"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 in a revealing Facebook post just before the New Year.
Once upon a time, his skill set and ceiling trounced his mounting list of issues. Now, nearly a decade since his NBA debut, he's a problem player, struggling to generate interest.
Let's start with the obvious: Bynum's health.
Interested teams won't sign Bynum under the impression he's going to play like an All-Star or win them a championship. But they will want him to, you know, play. Which he hasn't done consistently.
After sitting out all of 2012-13 with the Philadelphia 76ers, Bynum set up shop in Cleveland, where he appeared in just 24 games before being sent on his merry way. During that time, he played 20 minutes per contest, more than 15 minutes under his 2011-12 average.
Worse still, he hasn't played since Dec. 26. Who knows what his conditioning is like or how hard he's truly been working?
Those taking a chance on Bynum will want some guarantee he's ready to play. While Bynum may be prepared to provide it, neither he nor the most unethical doctors can promise he'll stay healthy enough to make a contribution.
Even at a discount, that kind of uncertainty isn't something teams can look completely past.
Why yes, I have realized there are an awful lot of pictures capturing Bynum draped in sweaty towels. I've also noticed that Bynum's commitment to the game of basketball is boiled-carrots sturdy.
When the Cavaliers drama first went down, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski was told Bynum "doesn't want to play basketball anymore" and "never liked it that much in first place."
Heavy-hitting stuff for someone once dubbed Dwight Howard's biggest rival.
But hold the phone—CSNNW's Chris Haynes squelched Woj's report. Citing "well-placed" sources, he writes that Bynum has not given up on basketball and is "determined to prove everyone wrong."
Forgive me for not jumping on Bynum's bandwagon immediately, or at all. Even during his Los Angeles Lakers days, he seemed oddly disconnected from his profession, like he was just on the court because he was tall and this is what tall people do: occasionally feign effort on the hardwood and collect a paycheck.
That's just how it seemed, mind you. I could be wrong. Or right.
But after all that Bynum's been through—especially his recent fallout in Cleveland—there's clearly an effort and commitment problem in some regard.
Don't be surprised if teams aren't forming lines to find out how deep it runs.
More sweat-drenched towels.
Also, more drama.
ESPN's Chris Broussard says that money, playing time and contender status will all factor into Bynum's decision. Obviously Bynum wants to play for a winner, since representing a young, rebuilding team like the Cavs didn't go so well. And he obviously wants to get paid, because if you're good at something, never do it for free, hence the reason Anthony Bennett is working for nothing these days.
Playing time is an issue, though.
It should come as a relief that Bynum wants to do something other than pose for pictures, cloaked in towels, dreaming of that turkey he almost rolled at the bowling alley last night. But if he wants to play for a contender, will playing time suitable to his ego be available?
Bynum wouldn't be starting for most of the teams pursuing him. According to Stein, Bynum's list of suitors currently includes the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks. Maybe the size-challenged Mavs find a place for him in the starting lineup, but others won't.
Assuming Bynum's a changed man, he'll enjoy the chance to play for a potential winner and dismantle opposing second units. Or he could still be the same person, lacking a firm hold on concepts of teamwork, sacrifice and selflessness, paving way for more pubescent-style drama true "winners" will want no part of.
The Whole Locker Room Thing
Take a break from awesome towel shots for a minute in an effort to pretend that somehow, someway, the stars align and Bynum finds a home he likes that actually wants him.
You pray, hoping that everything works out, knowing there's a strong possibility Bynum goes all Bynum on his new team.
Few organizations are stable enough to house a question mark like Bynum.
The Knicks, the poster team for drama and trade rumors and confusion and inconsistent rotations and subpar player development, don't figure to be a good fit. One could argue the Pacers, while intriguing on paper, don't have the internal fortitude necessary to combat Bynum's serial me-first attitude when all their players are self-effacing and genuine.
Veteran squads like the Clippers, who have a gritty, no-nonsense coach in Doc Rivers, and Heat, who have the greatest player in the world, seem like the best possible fits in that context.
But again, why risk any friction?
The Heat already have Michael Beasley—recurrent screw-up turned successful reclamation project—and don't necessarily need another wild card. The Clippers, without Chris Paul, don't have the on-court authority needed to discipline Bynum.
This isn't to say Bynum is a hopeless cause, but everything has to be considered when evaluating him. To this point, he's done nothing with any of his previous three teams to suggest he's mentally capable of enhancing a locker-room dynamic.
Until he does, we, like any prospective suitors, must remain skeptical.
What is Bynum's ceiling?
Think carefully about this one. How much can Bynum contribute to a team? Any team?
Throw surface stats out the window. His 15.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes in Cleveland were impressive. But we're talking profound impact. Actual value.
According to NBA.com (subscription required), the Cavs' offense and defense were better when Bynum was on the bench. This shouldn't be overlooked. It's easier for a serviceable player to make a positive impact on a struggling team, because there's more room for improvement.
But Bynum couldn't even do that.
Blame it on Mike Brown's simplistic isolation- and Kyrie-heavy offensive scheme. Blame it on the general fit. But also consider that Bynum, accustomed to being a focal point, may not be cut out for playing in short bursts.
Price, attitude and commitment don't mean a damn thing if Bynum can't produce. It doesn't matter if he's simply a rental, a temporary plug for a team depleted by injuries or desperate for frontcourt depth.
For Bynum to be worth the risk—the mental, physical and financial risk—he has to yield results.
Too Much Baggage?
Thus far, we—okay, I—have been pretty hard on Bynum.
But his doubters make no apologies, so expect none. Bynum has earned every bit of criticism hurled his way, especially now. And because of how checkered his past is, we must ask the ultimate question: Does the risk involved outweigh the reward?
Bynum is going to come cheap. Really cheap. Unless some team with cap space makes the ill-fated decision of drumming up his value, he won't land the extra cash Stein says he's looking for.
It's so easy to fall into that trap. "He's cheap, therefore he's worth it."
That's simply not true.
Teams have to weigh every aspect of his situation—character, price, potential, attitude, etc.—before making their decision. If they find out his baggage isn't too heavy for them to carry and is an agreeable trade-off for what he brings, then it makes sense to give him an opportunity.
Doing so is not a mindless matter, though. For all Bynum can do on the basketball court, he has issues—some of which may not be solvable or possible to overlook.
No matter how cheap or easy he comes.