This latest brief chapter in a basketball career that once carried Bynum to the pinnacle of success is now over. Most likely, his NBA career itself is over.
Writing for Bleacher Report, Dan Favale summed up the state of the 26-year-old center’s future in the wake of this latest aborted comeback: "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."
How crazy would it be, then, for the team that selected him as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 draft to give him one last shot?
Crazy in a sad and desperate way? Crazy like a fox? Too crazy to even write about?
Given that Robert Sacre is the only frontcourt player under contract for the Lakers next season, maybe this isn’t actually beyond discussion.
And knowing that Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill are set to walk out the door via free agency, the Lakers might actually be desperate enough to consider such a thing.
Bynum was once an absolute beast; let’s be clear on that. And there was never any real doubt about how bad his knees were. Fans in Los Angeles lived for years with injury-shortened seasons, wincing every time he left the ground, wondering if he’d land safely.
Appearing on Fox Sports Live in January, Phil Jackson, who has since become president of the New York Knicks, was asked if he thought the player whom he coached to two championships would try to come back one more time: "I think he’s going to give it another try. This kid is really talented. He’s a good shooter, he’s got a good touch, got a left and a right hand… At age 35 he’s going to say, I wish I had those skills again."
Bynum did indeed try again, signing with the Pacers for their playoff run in February and appearing in just two games off the bench. Those appearances fueled some hope—eight points and 10 rebounds in a win against the Boston Celtics on March 11 and 15 points and nine boards in a win against the Detroit Pistons on March 15.
And that was the end of it. After developing swelling and soreness in his right knee, Bynum resumed a familiar theme of treatment and rest, and he never found his way back into the lineup.
A gigantic presence in high school, Bynum was first scouted by Lakers assistant general manager Ronnie Lester. But it was Jim Buss who glommed on and seized the credit, as if the drafting of a raw 17-year-old was itself a validation of his new title of vice president of player personnel.
Bynum developed slowly in his rookie season under the tutelage of special assistant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, averaging just 1.6 points in 46 appearances. By his sophomore season, the teen center had made significant strides, playing in all 82 games.
And then came his third NBA season and a displaced kneecap after 35 games, leading to a lengthy rehab and eventually surgery.
From there on out, there seemed to be an inescapable pattern of continuing improvement interspersed with more injuries, more rest and rehab and more surgeries.
Bynum won two NBA titles during Jackson’s tenure as coach and was an All-Star during the 2011-12 season under the Zen Master’s successor, Mike Brown. That season was Bynum’s best statistically—he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks through 60 games.
He also had a 30-rebound night against the San Antonio Spurs.
And then he was traded—part of a massive four-team blockbuster in August of 2012 that sent Andre Iguodala to Denver, with Dwight Howard exiting Orlando and entering an ill-fated one-year courtship with the Lakers.
Bynum never once played during his one year in Philadelphia. Instead he went bowling on bad knees and subsequently had both of them scoped out.
This season brought an opportunity to resurrect a career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and with Coach Brown who was back after being let go by the Lakers.
Instead, Bynum played just 24 games before being suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. In January of this year he was traded to the Chicago Bulls for forward Luol Deng and immediately waived.
In early March, after being picked up by the Pacers, the troubled center spoke with Candace Buckner of The Indy Star. He likened Brown’s detail-oriented structure to a shopping excursion: "It's kinda like, if I send you to the grocery store and I give you three choices for peanut butter, you'll probably pick one easily. But if I give you 25 choices, you might stand there for half an hour. Having it be too detailed may not always be the right thing.”
In a tangentially related side note, Brown was fired this week by the Cavs after just one season back.
Bynum has always been an outspoken maverick interested in a variety of pastimes. He likes to travel and explore, and he is endlessly fascinated with things of a mechanical or technical nature—like building his own computers or tinkering with his fleet of Ferraris.
The question has always been how much he truly loves basketball. When you add in the considerable pain that he has to deal with just to play a few minutes—ripping down rebounds or sinking shots with a surprisingly feathery touch—it becomes increasingly apparent that his future in sports is all but nonexistent.
Yet, he keeps making these attempts to come back. It’s certainly not for the money—the prorated minimum salary he made with the Pacers can’t have any significance when compared to the $16.9 million he pocketed for sitting out a season in Philadelphia.
Would this oft-injured wayward big man want to come home again to the Lakers? And more importantly, would they have the slightest interest on taking a flier on a guy with such a troubled past?
A past that includes seven seasons in Purple and Gold, three Finals, two rings and an All-Star appearance?
Would Buss see this as a chance to reunite with a player whose praises he sang relentlessly for years?
Or, at a bare minimum, might the team view Bynum as a dirt-cheap bench option during a free-agency period that promises little in the way of quality big men?
At his best, Bynum was a fierce protector at one end of the court and extremely mobile at the other—moving defenders aside with his strength and finishing at the rim. Even this season, with all the injuries and question marks, he still showed an ability to get position, alter shots and score at will.
There is no guarantee that Bynum can ever be a consistently productive player again. In fact, there probably isn’t even a reasonable chance.
Yet he’s still 26 years old and only two years removed from being one of the most dominant players in the game.
Could Bynum trigger some interest from the team that drafted him nine years ago? Crazier things have happened in the world of basketball.
And if the Lakers don't nab him, the Knicks probably will.