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NBA Free Agency: A look at Andrew Bynum's chronic knee issues

Most Cavs fans were excited about Andrew Bynum coming to Cleveland, given the relatively low risk of the deal. Let's take a look at why the Cavaliers were able to sign one of the best young centers in the league while committing such a small amount of money.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

In January 2008, Andrew Bynum dislocated his left kneecap. Since then, he has missed 154 games, including all of last season, due to various knee issues. Other injuries and suspensions have kept him out of 26 more games. The man misses a lot of games, usually because of his knees. outlined all of the time he has missed over the last few years:

January 2008: Dislocated left kneecap. Missed 46 games and underwent arthroscopic surgery that offseason.

January 2009: Right medial collateral ligament tear. Missed 32 games. Injury unrelated to the dislocated knee but MCL tear suggested he was "loose-jointed" and "sensitive to contact injuries in the future," DiNubile told the Los Angeles Times.

November 2009: Right elbow strain. Missed two games.

February 2010: Left hip injury. Missed two games.

March 2010: Strained left Achilles tendon. Missed 13 games.

April 2010: Right knee hyperextension. Caused a previously diagnosed lateral meniscus tear to go from "very small" to "small." Played through the injury in the 2010 playoffs and underwent arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. Missed first 24 games of following season.

February 2011: Left bone bruise. Missed one game.

April 2011: Right knee hyperextension. Missed one game.

February 2012: Right knee discomfort. Received Synvisc injection. Missed no games.

September 2012: Orthokine treatment on both knees. Discomfort in both knees caused Bynum to miss start of season.

November 2012: Left knee reinjured bowling.

February 2013: Knee pain persists. "I have the most to lose by not playing and I want to get back."

With a year left on his contract in Los Angeles in the summer of 2012, the Lakers didn't show a ton of interest in bringing Bynum back long term. Most people excused this as a result of Bynum's immaturity, or the feeling that if Dwight Howard was a possibility then it made sense to not want to promise Bynum guaranteed money. It is fair to wonder now if the Lakers were worried about Bynum's knees. The Lakers shopped Bynum, and it was rumored that the Cavs were in play. Ultimately Bynum went to the Philadelphia 76ers, and he never stepped on the court for them. Before last season Bynum went to Germany for treatment on his knees, but it doesn't appear to have been effective.

Bynum missed training camp and the start of the season due to a bone bruise in his right knee. Later on in November, he damaged his left knee in a bowling incident. What was funny for the league as a whole became a nightmare for Philadelphia.

In January, Bynum started basketball activities, but his knees didn't react well and and became swollen. From that point on, it became clear that the Bynum experience wasn't going to be a positive one for Philadelphia. As late as February he was promising to come back and play. Shortly thereafter, though, a report surfaced that the 76ers felt that Bynum had degenerative knees. This would be a very bad thing. With degenerative knees it is possible that Bynum's knees would never properly heal, and he would never be a solid player again. While he might come back for short bursts and even be effective, without cartilage in his knees there would be repeated friction and any success wouldn't be sustainable.

In March Bynum underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees. His agent says that he will be ready for training camp, and expects Bynum to play at an All-Star level this year. Arthroscopic surgery is a term for surgery that can be done for all kinds of different purposes. Sometimes it is just investigative in nature; other times it is to repair damaged cartilage or remove frayed cartilage. Apparently the Bynum camp was providing prospective teams with an MRI he had produced in which things looked okay. The report out of Philly speculating about degenerative knees was the result of their doctor looking at an MRI. You can’t just falsify an MRI, but it would be nice to have had the Cavs team doctors do their own look. Maybe they did, we don’t know.

I am now going to give some bullet point thoughts that are somewhat speculative in nature. Make of them what you will.

  • Andrew Bynum doesn't like basketball very much, according to a former teammate.
  • 76er blogs questioned whether Andrew Bynum actually wanted to be in Philadelphia.
  • Theoretically, in a contract year, Bynum should have been motivated to play well in Philly.
  • The 76ers and Lakers did not seem interested in keeping Andrew Bynum.
  • Mike Brown coached Andrew Bynum for his best season as a pro, and probably could have vetoed the signing for Cleveland here. In fact, from reports, Mike Brown heavily recruited Bynum to Cleveland.
  • Mike Brown is not a doctor.
  • Andrew Bynum is one year removed from a largely healthy season in which he was one of the best centers in basketball.
  • Last season, his contract was fully guaranteed whether he played or not. This season, he will have to play to make the possible $12 million (and have the Cavs consider picking up his team option for next year). Could this motivate him?

When I mentioned on twitter how difficult it was to make sense of all this, Kirk Henderson of MavsMoneyball weighed in, and I think this is about perfect.

Andrew Bynum is a great player, there is no doubt about it. He just hasn't played much, recently. I probably would have gone a different route in free agency that didn't have such serious risks. But maybe his knees aren't degenerative. And maybe he shows up motivated. So maybe this will work out.