Andrew Bynum's Red Flags Not Worth Chemistry Gamble for Indiana Pacers

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Andrew Bynum's Red Flags Not Worth Chemistry Gamble for Indiana Pacers
Mark Duncan/Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers, already the NBA's biggest and most intimidating team, tried to get a little bigger and more intimidating Saturday.

The team signed free-agent center Andrew Bynum for the remainder of the season, per an official team release. According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the deal is worth $1 million.

Bynum, who's been out of work since being traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers and subsequently waived by the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7, said Indiana had separated itself from his other suitors and presented an ideal opportunity.

“It really wasn’t a hard decision, I think it’s the right fit for me and, in all honesty, I think we’ve got the best chance of winning,” Bynum said, via Pacers.com. “It will be great to back up Roy and I’ll do whatever I can to help this team.”

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Of course he would feel that way. Anything that eases his pressure, lightens his workload and still fills up his bank account would make him pretty happy.

Bynum is a risk-reward player who tilts so far toward the former, it's amazing he still finds anyone interested in his services. His injury concerns speak for themselves. There's a reason the medical red flag scale starts at "clean bill of health" and ends at "the next Andrew Bynum."

You could make it through med school just by studying his health history: dislocated kneecap in 2008, MCL tear in 2009, strained Achilles in 2010, torn meniscus the same year, bone bruise and a bad bowling trip in 2012. His knee problems are "degenerative," per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and he admitted to considering retirement on several occasions, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst

The big man played all 82 games as a sophomore in 2006-07 and made 60 appearances during the lockout-shortened, 66-game 2011-12 season. Outside of those two seasons, he's never missed fewer than 17 games and he sat out the entire 2012-13 campaign due to nagging knee pain.

At this point, he's more recognizable in a sideline suit than an actual uniform.

None of that matters, though, right? Indiana already has an All-Star center in Roy Hibbert. It's not counting on Bynum seeing substantial minutes.

Yet that very fact is what boggles the mind the most.

Clearly, the Pacers—owners of both the Eastern Conference's best record (35-10) and its top net rating (plus-8.7 points per 100 possessions)—don't need Bynum.

So, why do they even want him?

Some have long speculated Indiana's interest in Bynum stemmed from a desire to keep him away from the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Pacers president Larry Bird debunked that myth, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

It could have been a dramatic subplot in the only compelling Eastern Conference story, but it's likely nothing more than perception becoming reality. The Heat had problems handling Hibbert in the past, so a big man like Bynum could potentially help them neutralize that threat.

There's only one problem: The public was bigger on bringing Bynum to South Beach than Miami was.

Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears reported in mid-January that the Heat were not going to pursue Bynum, thanks to Greg Oden's expanding role and the team's maxed out 15-man roster. The Heat could have outbid the Pacers had they wanted Bynum, but sources told ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst that Miami was more likely to pursue a defensive-minded wing.

It seems as if the Pacers were simply looking to upgrade their own roster, but they addressed a need that doesn't exist and took a tremendous gamble to do it.

Hibbert is playing a career-high 30.4 minutes per game this season, and his playoff per-game minutes have exceeded his regular-season doses in each of the last two seasons. Ian Mahinmi hasn't had a great season behind Hibbert (3.0 points, 3.1 rebounds), but there are only so many available minutes at the backup center spot.

Theoretically, Bynum is a major upgrade over Mahinmi. Truthfully, he's more than a full season removed from being a dominant force, and his superstar light didn't shine nearly as long as some seem to think.

Tracking Andrew Bynum's Gradual Rise and Sudden Fall
Season PPG FG% RPG BPG
2005-06 1.6 40.2 1.7 0.5
2006-07 7.8 55.8 5.9 1.6
2007-08 13.1 63.6 10.2 2.1
2008-09 14.3 56.0 8.0 1.8
2009-10 15.0 57.0 8.3 1.4
2010-11 11.3 57.4 9.4 2.0
2011-12 18.7 55.8 11.8 1.9
2013-14 8.4 41.9 5.3 1.2

Basketball-Reference.com

Obviously, if Indiana gets Bynum's 2011-12 form, that's a tremendous find. Of course, that's what the Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers were both hoping for too.

What if he's the player who started the year in Cleveland? The one with per-game averages not far outside of Mahinmi's neighborhood (8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes), a bad attitude and a reportedly lukewarm passion for his profession?

Bleacher Report's own Kevin Ding said Bynum is "always willing to do...whatever he wants." He was such a disruptive locker room presence that the Cavaliers simply sent him home until they could figure out something to do with him.

Bynum hasn't even made it to Indiana and his new teammates are already proceeding with caution:

Supporters of the deal will say Indiana's locker room is strong enough to withstand Bynum's arrival. That there's a toughness in the team's leadership to hold the big man in check.

As if placing an unnecessary strain on oneself—for a reserve backing up one of your best players, no less—while attempting to unseat a two-time champ makes any sense at all.

The risk is massive here, but where's the potentially great reward to match?

Did the Pacers make a good investment in bringing in Bynum?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Did the Pacers think they were pulling a fast one on a Heat team that never seemed all that interested in the big man? Has Indiana exposed a seemingly tight-knit locker room to a combustible presence that hasn't been healthy, engaged or even productive in nearly two years? Is an extra 12 minutes of size for what was already the league's biggest team really the missing ingredient for Indiana's championship puzzle?

Some might tag this as a bold acquisition. That's just a softer way of saying reckless.

There is no tantalizing payoff in this transaction. At best, he's a second insurance policy and one that comes with no guarantee of being ready when called upon.

At his worst, well, he's a dealer's choice of potential pitfalls. If his knees don't bring him down (again), his mind can just as easily drift away.

The Pacers can only hope Bynum is the only one affected when his inevitable breakdown comes around.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

 

 

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