Ahead of their Game 2 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, the Pacers officially announced that Bynum will leave the team.
"We want to thank Andrew and our medical staff for trying to get the issues with his knee resolved,” said team president Larry Bird said in a statement. “We wish him the best in the future.”
In recent years, Bynum's absence on the sidelines and in games has become more noticeable than the 7-footer with irregular haircuts himself. For years, an end to his habitual knee problems was supposed to be in sight. It never came.
The end of his NBA career, however, may have just arrived.
Playing for the Pacers was Bynum's last shot, his final chance to show that he could contribute in some capacity without damaging a team dynamic or himself in the process. The idea that he could ever become a superstar had long dissipated. Joining the Pacers was about staying healthy, about salvaging his career no matter what was left of it.
Technically speaking, Indiana was Bynum's fifth team in less than two years. After capturing his first career All-Star selection in 2011-12, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a four-team trade that landed the Los Angeles Lakers Dwight Howard. He didn't play a single minute during the 2012-13 campaign.
General manager Sam Hinkie wisely took the Sixers in a different direction this past summer and refused to re-sign Bynum. Smart man.
Bynum went on to sign a two-year deal worth up to $24 million with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Only $6 million of his contract was guaranteed, a far cry from the max agreement he appeared headed toward after averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for the Lakers in 2011-12.
Unable to adjust to life as a role player operating under a minutes cap, hampered by injuries once again and finding himself at the center of locker room turmoil, Bynum was dealt to the Chicago Bulls in a trade that netted Cleveland All-Star forward Luol Deng. The move was a blatant salary dump on the Bulls' behalf. They waived Bynum upon acquiring him.
Soon after, Bynum landed on his feet with the Pacers, who were looking to bolster their frontcourt depth behind Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi. For Bynum, the decision was a no-brainer.
"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," he said at the time, per USA Today's Sam Amick. "It will be great to back up Roy and I'll do whatever I can to help this team."
At first it appeared Bynum had found an actual NBA home. He made his Pacers debut in a March 11 victory over the Boston Celtics, scoring eight points and nabbing 10 rebounds in 18 minutes of action. On March 15, he played again during a victory over the Detroit Pistons. This time he registered 15 points, nine rebounds and one block in 20 minutes.
Optimism flared. Hope in Bynum was restored. Yours truly upgraded his ceiling with the team to "happy accident" status. It turned out the 26-year-old had something left in those degenerative knees of his after all.
Too many people jumped the gun, though. That second appearance was also Bynum's last. By April 19, the Pacers had ruled him out of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, per The Indianapolis Star (subscription required).
Now this. Bynum isn't going to come back from this. He's been through too much physically over the last few years. While he was with the Cavaliers, he admitted that he had considered retiring because of how severe his recurring injuries were.
“It was a thought, it was a serious thought. Still is,” Bynum said regarding retirement in November, via the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd. “At the moment, it’s tough to enjoy the game because of how limited I am physically. I’m still sort of working through that.”
Bynum should only just be entering his prime at this stage of his career. Yet there he was six months ago, still pondering retirement. That in itself was a red flag and harbinger of doom.
Think back to his past injuries, and it's not surprising. Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney did a fantastic job recapping the maladies Bynum has suffered from since entering the league nearly nine years ago:
In 2008, Bynum dislocated his left knee cap and eventually underwent arthroscopic surgery. In 2010, Bynum underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.
In 2012, Bynum underwent Orthokine treatments on both of his knees in Germany before sitting out the preseason because of a bone bruise in his right knee. He then told reporters in November 2012 that he had cartilage damage in his left knee, and later admitted that the “setback” happened while he was bowling. The Sixers had initially hoped he would return that December but eventually opted to list him as out indefinitely with bone bruises in both of his knees following that setback.
In January 2013, Bynum was cleared to run and spoke about a return to the court after the All-Star Break, but he eventually underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees in mid-March after never making it back to the court.
How do you come back from all that, and now this?
Maybe you try, but ultimately you don't. You can't.
Among the many things preventing Bynum from continuing his career is Bynum himself.
"He doesn't want to play basketball anymore," a league source told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski in December. "He never liked it that much in first place."
Another comeback won't be attempted if Bynum doesn't want to play anymore. It's that simple. Of course, there's always the chance Bynum's disinterest has been overblown. Yet no matter what, the idea is already implanted in the minds of NBA front offices.
Therein lies Bynum's latest, greatest obstacle aside from himself: Someone has to give him another shot.
Signing 7-footers is still considered a formality. If you're that tall, capable of walking and possess any trace of hand-eye coordination, there's an NBA team waiting to give you even the slightest chance.
But after his latest failure—that's all this can be called—Bynum's case is different. Incredibly different.
In addition to his flimsy knees, he's been portrayed as something of a chemistry cancer. He's never truly grown up. In so many ways this is still the Bynum who infamously tried to steal the ball from then-Lakers teammate Steve Blake.
I thought it really helped me a lot obviously at first, because he draws so much attention it's hard for guys to double team and key on you, so it helped me tremendously. Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth.
(Related: I've yet to hear him also blame Bryant for his two championship rings.)
This is the same Bynum who injured himself while bowling before the 2012-13 crusade started.
This is the same Bynum who was indefinitely suspended by the Cavs this season for destructive behavior, according to Wojnarowski:
Only Bynum never made it to the early January guarantee date for his full $12.5 million salary in 2013-14, and self-destructed. He stopped trying on the floor, and became a disruptive presence in practices. Before Bynum was thrown out of his final practice and suspended, he was shooting the ball every time he touched it in a practice scrimmage, sources said – from whatever remote part of the court he had caught the ball.
Finally, this is the same Bynum who couldn't make it work with the Pacers, a team that until recently has always boasted of its chemistry. Still, the true reason behind his most recent departure is somewhat unknown.
Bird's comments were ambiguous at best. It could have been health-driven, or it could have been a team cancer thing. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com was told Bynum's presence "rankled Hibbert" because head coach Frank Vogel would run "plays to get Bynum involved offensively that he rarely calls for Hibbert." That, in truth, would be more on Vogel and Hibbert than Bynum.
Either way, the Pacers appear to know a lost cause when they see one—or rather, three months after they sign one. It doesn't speak highly of Bynum's health or his personality that Indiana basically gave him the ax while Hibbert is struggling and the team is fighting for its season.
How do you come back from all this, too? How do you escape a reputation that's followed you absolutely everywhere you've gone?
Again, you don't. And Bynum won't.
Over and Done With
All things considered, it would still be foolish to conclude that Bynum will never get another shot at playing in the NBA.
Once more, 7-footers will always have a home in this league—7-footers who actually want to play basketball, that is.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding said it best when he put Bynum's relationship with the game in deeper perspective:
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. ...
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.
We don't know for sure if Bynum wants to play basketball again. We don't know for sure if his body will ever allow him to play basketball again. But we do know that things will never be the same.
We know that since 2012-13, Bynum has appeared in just three more games (26) than Greg Oden has played all this season (23).
Most importantly, we know that even if Bynum plays again, he'll never be the superstar he was supposed to be.
Expectations are gone. Hope has vanished. Bynum's NBA career, even if he manages to find another home, is over.
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