The signing of Andrew Bynum in 2013 was a glimmer of hope for the Cavs during a dark time. Not that, after sitting out the entire previous season in Philadelphia — where he battled the sort of lingering injuries that brings a 7-footer’s career to an abrupt end — he was expected to return to Lakers form (where he won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010, although he was injured in the playoffs in 2009). But, what if he did? The odds were inordinately low, but it could have been the break that the young team needed. Even with a budding star in Kyrie Irving, a LeBron-less Cleveland wasn’t even close to being a destination team. To cause a positive ripple effect, they had to make a big splash in either free agency or the draft, and with the latter being shaky, they took a risk on the market. And with a contract — worth about $12.5 million annually — that the Cavs only ended up paying around $6 million on, no matter how you frame it, it was a pretty solid decision when there was money to burn. Because, what if Bynum stayed healthy, returned to shape, and was the sidekick Kyrie needed to elevate the Cavs into the playoffs or, at least, was a piece that allowed them to attract more talent? What if Kyrie was actually a brilliant facilitator, but needed another talented scorer to show it? These were questions they needed to answer. (It was better than tanking. Plus, it ended up somehow paying off better, too.) And, worse case, with a team-friendly contract, you waste some of Dan Gilbert’s money, without jeopardizing the future. Which is what happened. It was a calculated risk with a high ceiling and a higher basement. And even though the hope was there, it was kind of obvious what was going to happen, but, despite that, this was a pretty solid desperation move from a desperate team in their search for immediate relevance and an eventual homecoming from LeBron.
Bynum was only 25 when the Cavs signed him. In 2011-12, the last of his seven years with the Lakers, Bynum averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in 60 starts, per ESPN. In Cleveland, during the 24 games he played in the 2013-14 season, he averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. But, almost immediately, just watching him, it became apparent that he wasn’t — nor probably ever would again be — the player that helped Kobe win a few more rings. His mobility was greatly diminished and he seemed to not be able to trust his own body, which made his game look a decade older than it had two years before. And all of that physical turbulence had a mental impact on him, as well, which eventually manifested in disrupting his final Cavs practice by shooting the ball whenever it was thrown to him during an inner-squad scrimmage, no matter where he was on the court. At least he went down guns blazing. He was then dismissed, suspended and, shorty thereafter, traded for Luol Deng. The Bulls waived him, as they were just looking to dump Deng’s contract and he was picked up by the Pacers, who were trying to add depth and take a chance before heading into the playoffs, where they knew a dangerous Miami team was lurking. He played in two games and was waived before game two of the eastern conference semi-finals. And, that seems to be the anti-climatic end of a career that dissipated too soon.
In hindsight, taking a chance on a 25-year-old to recover — even if a full return never looked good — with a low risk on a rebuilding team is obviously nothing to regret. Drafting Luke Jackson is something to regret. Throwing $70 million at Larry Hughes is something to regret. Signing Andrew Bynum was just rolling the dice with house money. I loved that deal then and I still love it now. It kept things exciting. It didn’t have a negative long-term impact. Sure, it threw a bit of a tornado into a team that was already a mess, but there wasn’t much on the line. It was a smart risk from a team that had nothing to lose and was probably hoping to gain 85 percent of a guy who, not long before, had great hands, a soft touch, slick post moves and solid vision:
Although, he also did do things like this: