NBA Free Agency: What are the risks involved with Andrew Bynum in Cleveland?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Cavaliers got Andrew Bynum on an extremely friendly contract. But that doesn't mean there aren't some risks in the deal with Cleveland.

Andrew Bynum is headed to Cleveland and there's plenty of reasons to be excited about that. As we have already noted, the potential upside for Bynum on the Cavaliers is remarkable. If Bynum can stay healthy, it can be an incredibly exciting and successful season. The Cavs haven't sniffed the playoffs in 3 seasons, but you knew that. Bynum is a tremendous talent and could help the Cavs roll to a playoff appearance in a weak Eastern Conference. But Bynum staying healthy is always a longshot. He's been plagued with injuries throughout his career and hasn't always had the best attitude. Despite the minimal financial investment, there are a very risks involved with the free agency signing of Andrew Bynum. So for the sake of argument, let's go over some of those potential downsides.

Andrew Bynum could become a distraction.

Ask a 76ers fan about how it felt to be constantly waiting for Andrew Bynum to get healthy. Intermittent updates about whether or not Bynum would practice with the team were an annoyance that hung over the rest of the team. Even though Bynum's new contract is only $6 million guaranteed and he has to get healthy and play in games in order to earn the rest of his money, health is not something you can typically control. It may be out of his hands, but if Bynum's knees just don't cooperate, I can easily see Bynum becoming more of a nuisance than an asset. Instead of focusing on the development of young players and blossoming chemistry of a potential playoff team, we'll end up focusing on Bynum's supposed recovery. If the Cavs are struggling more than expected, there's the chance that coaches, players, and the front office get complacent and adopt the thinking of "it will all be fixed once Bynum gets healthy." That may be true -- but with Bynum's knees, you could keep telling yourself that and then before you know it, it's April and the playoffs just aren't happening. For the fourth year in a row.

A big part of bringing in Mike Brown was to establish a culture of winning, toughness, defense, and togetherness. That might be hard if everybody is constantly waiting for updates about Bynum's health. Speaking of Mike Brown, that brings me to my next potential downside.

Andrew Bynum might clash with Mike Brown....again.

I'm not going to pretend that I know everything that happened between Coach Brown and Andrew Bynum. After all, multiple writers have reported that Brown was actually a fairly big reason why Bynum opted to sign with Cleveland.

Bynum had his most productive season under Brown in Los Angeles. But watching as a fan, it looked like Brown and Bynum weren't a perfect happy couple with the Lakers.

Surely you remember the controversy with the Lakers when Bynum took some ill-advised three pointers. This prompted Mike Brown to bench Bynum in a couple games.

"All I know is he took a 3 and I'm looking at the time, score and flow of the game and I felt like I needed to make a change," Brown said of Bynum, who posted 11 points on four-of-13 shooting and five rebounds. "Then I put him back in later in the game and I didn't think we were getting it done. So I felt like we needed to make a change again. So I made a change."

There were also instances of Bynum not participating in team huddles during timeouts, looking disinterested, and immature.

Throughout the second half, Bynum sat on the bench displaying behavior that, at best, suggested indifference, and at worst, showed unprofessionalism. Immediately after getting yanked for his three-pointer, Bynum sat on the bench laughing and mimicking his shooting form.

Maybe that's just a phase. Maybe he's grown up in the year and half since then. Maybe the saga in Philadelphia has humbled Andrew Bynum and he's ready to act like a pro and respect his coach and be a team player. But maybe he isn't. I tend to believe that if there were still issues between Bynum and Coach Brown, he wouldn't have been offered the contract in the first place. But we can't be sure of that. For all of his talent, Bynum can still be a pain in the ass. If he's healthy, he'd instantly be one of the best players on the team. And if one of your star players blatantly disrespects or clashes with your head coach, that's not good for an impressionable, young locker room. An NBA team is a very delicate thing. One bad apple has the potential to throw off everybody else.

Andrew Bynum could stunt the growth of Cleveland's young talent.

When I say Andrew Bynum could stunt the Cavs' growth, I mean that in two senses. The first sense is the most obvious, on-the-court one. If Bynum is healthy and able to log major minutes, you clearly have to play him. He's the best option at center and should be getting lots of offensive touches and be a major focal point. But naturally, that means you're taking some playing time away from some younger players. Tristan Thompson has shown the ability to play either center or power forward. Yes, he's outmatched against some larger centers, but for the most part he's able to handle either position. Well with a healthy Bynum, I could see Tristan's minutes take a hit. Tristan started all 82 games last season and averaged 31.3 minutes per game. With the drafting of Anthony Bennett, there already appeared to be a strain for minutes in the front court (assuming Anderson Varejao is healthy as well). With the addition of Bynum, the Cavs now have five front court players that could be worthy of significant minutes. Thompson, Bennett, Bynum, and Varejao make for a very nice front court rotation. But what happens to Tyler Zeller? You know, the guy that the Cavs drafted in the first round and played 26.4 minutes per game and started 55 games last season? Maybe you aren't concerned about Zeller if the Cavs have a healthy Andrew Bynum and you're probably right. But Bynum is only signed through two seasons at the most right now. If he's healthy and productive for two years, then opts to go elsewhere on a long-term contract, you may have just taken some really important minutes away from players that will be the future of your front court. Bennett, Thompson, and Zeller are more likely to be here longterm than Andrew Bynum. Could Bynum's presence prevent these guys from getting the minutes they need to grow as basketball players and stabilize the foundation of the Cavs? I'm not sure, but it's at least possible.

The other way that Bynum could stunt the growth of these young Cavaliers is in the locker room. The Cavs have gone out of their way to fill their locker room with very strong character guys. Tristan Thompson was a bit of a reach, but I think his character, motor, and work ethic played a big part in Cleveland's decision to draft him. Dion Waiters' confidence on the court is abundant -- but off the court, he's a pretty lowkey guy that desperately wants to get better as a player. Just this offseason, the Cavs brought in Jarrett Jack for his veteran leadership and poise as much as his ability to provide consistency off the bench. The desire for dedicated, professional, hard-working players has been a constant theme throughout Cleveland's attempts to rebuild this franchise. And then you bring in Andrew Bynum. I already outlined some of the issues with Mike Brown. It's not an uncommon thing to hear that Bynum "doesn't love basketball." That's not something you want to hear about a guy that you just paid six million dollars to play basketball. It doesn't matter that it's only six million and that it doesn't hinder future flexibility. By getting Bynum, you've potentially just set the precedent that you're willing to throw money at a player if he's super talented, no matter how hard he works or how professional he might be.

Bynum might just be a waste of $6 million.

I know that it's not my money and I know that Dan Gilbert is probably completely fine with this risk. But it's still a lot of money. The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a very reasonable deal that gives them lots of protection if Bynum can't get on the court. They can opt out after next season and just cut their losses. But even in that case, they've invested $6 million. I think it's a worthwhile risk, but at the same time, you might just be better off lighting a big stack of money on fire. If Bynum comes in and is a disaster, doesn't work hard, and can't produce on the court, it doesn't impact the Cavaliers' financial situation down the road. But you just threw away $6 million. What does that say about your organization if you're just wasting that kind of money instead of investing it in more professional, healthy, and reliable players?

In that same vein, it's worth talking about opportunity cost. As it stands right now, the Cavaliers just used up all of their remaining cap space in order to take a chance on Andrew Bynum. They're only guaranteed to pay him $6 million, but it eats up all $12 million of cap space. That forces me to ask: could they have made better use of this space? Andrei Kirilenko is still on the market and while he isn't always healthy himself, he's a better bet to contribute than Andrew Bynum. You could get a cheaper, healthier contributor for the same $6 million. There's no way for me to know if somebody else would be a better choice in the long run, but it's at least possible. With Bynum under contract, the Cavs no longer have space to take on a bad deal in order to bring back other assets. They can't play that facilitator role that the Utah Jazz played in the deal that brought Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors and they can't take on contracts like Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington in order to acquire a future first round pick. It's easy to say that at this moment there wasn't a better use of the available cap space, but you never know what might crop up in the future. And I would hate for the Cavaliers to miss out on an opportunity to improve their team because they're paying Andrew Bynum to sit on the bench.

It's still a good move, but it isn't risk free.

I know that this article probably makes it sound like I'm against the move to bring in Andrew Bynum. But I promise you that that's not the case. I think it's a really smart contract that has the potential to make Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert look brilliant. The financial risk is virtually non-existent and if it doesn't work the Cavs can probably just scrap the whole thing and move forward as if it didn't happen. But I've read a lot of articles saying that there's absolutely no downside to this move. And I thought the same thing initially. But after considering it further, I've tempered my excitement and am now cautiously optimistic. The incentives built into the deal mean that Bynum has to work hard and rehab properly to make his money. And I think Bynum probably knows that if he flames out in Cleveland, he might not get another shot at the NBA. One would hope that that's enough motivation for him to make this all work out.

I'm hoping for the best, but there still is a chance that this all blows up in our faces. Just ask the 76ers.

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