Commentary

Bynum worth the risk for Cavaliers?

Originally Published: July 10, 2013
By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

Andrew Bynum is signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and it calls for some frank realism.

The state of Bynum's knees was such a red flag to the league that even the relatively paltry $6 million the Cavs guaranteed him was the only real offer the former All-Star had. And yet he gives the Cavs nothing but upside and becomes the highest-profile free agent the franchise has ever signed.

It isn't a storybook marriage, but they both need each other. Bynum is fighting for his career after a disastrous season with Philadelphia in which he was able to participate in only a single depressing practice and no games because of chronic knee problems. The Cavs are fighting to make it back to the playoffs after a three-year rebuilding process that has left them with young prospects and hope but no proven track record.

Bynum was unwilling to work out for teams who courted him this summer, which is not a good sign. But he was willing to provide recent MRIs of both knees, which both needed surgery in March, and met with team doctors from the Cavs, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks.

What is concerning is that Bynum has damage to cartilage in both knees and seemed to get worse after getting a usually effective blood-spinning procedure in Germany last summer. He missed an entire season even though his only major injury -- additional torn cartilage -- came from a night of bowling. This is most likely why after the meetings the only offer was from the Cavs.

Because of it, though, the Cavs are going into this with open eyes. They are well aware that they probably don't get a player like Bynum unless he was deemed damaged goods elsewhere in the league. They also are aware that Bynum, who has earned more than $60 million in his career, could've just retired but has some motivation to overcome these problems and prove he can still play.

A year ago, the Cavs were part of trade talks with the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers involving Bynum and Dwight Howard. Ultimately the Cavs pulled out because they were concerned about Bynum's knees and because they were worried about trading draft picks and players for someone who might not re-sign in Cleveland when he became a free agent this summer.

The Cavs were realistic about Bynum then and they are now. They are hopeful that his knees will be in good enough shape and that he can be ready for training camp, but they are not pinning their hopes on it. They are hoping he'll be able to be their starting center, but they have backup plans in place.

Last season the Cavs paid about $12 million to Baron Davis as part of an amnesty payoff. They paid nearly $3 million to Kelenna Azubuike, Luke Harangody and Josh Selby and none of them appeared in a game.

So team owner Dan Gilbert, a man who owns a handful of casinos, was anxious to take a gamble on Bynum for just that $6 million partial guarantee. If Bynum hits all the benchmarks in the contract, most of which are tied to games played, the Cavs will be happy to pay him the full $12 million. Same for the $12 million team option in 2014-15.

Considering a year ago the 76ers traded Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and two first-round picks to get Bynum, the Cavs will not lose sleep over committing to this deal.

For Bynum, a 25-year-old 7-footer who is just a year off a season in which he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and shot 56 percent while playing in 60 of 66 possible games, this was the best he could get.

On their roster the Cavs have Anderson Varejao, a talented big man who has managed to play just 81 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries. They have No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, who is out for the summer with a shoulder injury and needs to shed weight. They have Tristan Thompson, who just had a breakout second season, and Tyler Zeller, who was on the All-Rookie team. Recently signed Earl Clark can also play one of the big-man spots.

That group has the potential to become one of the deepest big-man rotations in the Eastern Conference, if not the league. With young All-Star Kyrie Irving, who has also battled injuries, All-Rookie team member Dion Waiters and veteran addition Jarrett Jack, the Cavs also feel like they have the makings of a very strong guard rotation as well.

It's going to take some health, luck and, in Bynum's case, perhaps defying some medical odds. But what makes this situation palatable is that everyone is aware of it.

If it fails, the parties will move on and probably not have it define the season. But if it works out, the Cavs could be one of the surprise teams in the league. That's a free-agent deal that's hard to pass up.