News broke late Sunday night that the Cleveland Cavaliers became a prime contender in the “sweepstakes” for injury-riddled center Andrew Bynum, who sat out all of last season for the Philadelphia 76ers due to nagging knee issues after being involved in the blockbuster trade last offseason that sent Dwight Howard, to the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, neither of the promising bigs, who their former respective teams had high hopes of forming championship squads centered on their size and athleticism, are being used as foundations for the 76ers or the Lakers. Instead, Howard is beginning yet another new chapter in trying to write his story without the accompaniment of already accomplished superstars in Houston with the Rockets. It is now Bynum’s turn, a former Laker who was a part of two back-to-back championship teams in 2009 and 2010, to decide on the situation where he thinks he can begin journeying down the path of redemption. The Cavs are offering him a chance to do so.
This was first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN, who mentioned that Cleveland would be able to make the most appealing deal to Bynum more than any team in the market looking for a rim-protecting big due to their rebuilding core of young stars and cap flexibility. The Cavs joined the Dallas Mavericks, who should be Cleveland’s main competition and will be meeting with the seven-foot big man on Wednesday, and the Atlanta Hawks, who met with Bynum on Tuesday following Cleveland’s meeting with him on Monday, as the three teams that have thus far had the most interest in the seven-year veteran. The Monday afternoon meeting that the Wine and Gold had with Bynum revealed that the Cleveland front office pitched a two-year, $24-million-plus, incentive-laden contract according to league sources who talked with Yahoo! Sports. The second year of the deal would include a team option, which has been the theme surrounding the previous, and carefully constructed, free agent signings this offseason.
After sitting idly by for the first week-plus of the portion of the offseason following the draft, the Wine and Gold made two moves that, in some way, address what they didn’t do a couple weeks back. Small forward/power forward Earl Clark was brought in for two meetings, then was signed to a two-year, $9 million deal with a team option for the 2014-15 campaign. Then backup point guard/shooting guard Jarrett Jack was thrown into the bench mix on Saturday after signing a four-year, $25 million deal (with a forth-year team option). Cleveland does not want to sit back anymore, and will most likely move on from pursuing Bynum if he continues to hold out on making a decision more than a day after his meeting with Dallas.
You have to be happy with what the front office has been doing this offseason, despite a slow start to the free agency period. No long-time commitment was made to Clark, which will allow Cleveland to pursue a free-agent small forward such as Luol Deng, Paul George (though unlikely) or Rudy Gay (who has a player option in the offseason of 2014) or to attempt a trade with a veteran three.
Even though LeBron James has an early termination option in his contract for the 2014 offseason, the Cavaliers shouldn’t bank on this happening by not making offers to a much-needed dominant paint defender this offseason. This team let LeBron dictate the ridiculous roster moves the front office made when he was on the team (trading away draft picks and signing players such as Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison as the supporting stars in an attempt to create a team that could take that next step that would/should have been hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy). The terms behind Bynum’s contract is not for the purpose of having the available tools and elasticity to chase after LeBron if he decides to leave a team that, even though has seen a decrease in the level of play in side stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, has won the last two league championships. It’s because this front office has wised up since aiming to please a certain player instead of an entire unit. Incentives in the contract pitched to Bynum, which aren’t specifically known, will protect Cleveland from dumping money on a player whose knees might continue to keep him off the court for a majority of next season. Bynum has played one full season in seven years in the NBA, and that was during his sophomore year in which he started 53 games. He has appeared in more than 60 games in one season once since the 2006-07 campaign. That is definitely one of the greatest areas of concern for the Cavs, and they would make sure that they would avoid giving him guaranteed money if he doesn’t appear in more games than he was the last five seasons (35, 50, 65, 54 and 60 respectively).
As stated above, Bynum is far away from being a 100-percent slam-dunk pickup, even though many are already drooling over the possibilities of a pick-and-roll offense consisting of an Irving-Bynum pairing. Center, as Chris pointed out in his post on Tuesday, is the most clouded area on the roster currently. Anderson Varejao, who was leading the NBA in rebounding before he went down after 25 games last season and was absolutely eating up the perimeter for the Cavs, hasn’t appeared in more than 35 games over his last three seasons (31, 25 and 25 respectively). Unfortunately, Wild Thing got off to incredibly hot starts in all three of the post-LeBron seasons before going down with injuries, averaging 9.1/9.7, 10.8/11.5 and 14.1/14.4 respectively. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2015, but how much will we see of him on the court in Wine and Gold before that time comes? We know how high the ceiling can be for Bynum if he decides to play in Cleveland judging by his 2011-12 season (18.7/11.8 and averaged 1.9 blocks), so putting strict stipulations in his contract makes sense if he can’t meet the production we expect out of him.
Having two bigs, however, on the roster with storied histories of injury problems (and we should even consider how much time the focal point of our team has missed due to more freakish happenings) doesn’t bode well for a team that needs to take one giant step away from the rebuilding process this season, but the front office knows this more than any fan does. They made a pitch to Bynum that won’t set Cleveland back to a point where we will see our young stars start to get frustrated with the direction of the team if he doesn’t pan out here, but, still, that’s looking past a season that hasn’t even started yet. We can’t depend on Tyler Zeller for another season, if the Bynum move happens, to bail these guys out. He picked up the offense quite nicely toward the end of the season, which helped a lot with his outside shooting, but his help would be much more appreciated if he were coming off the bench. He would be much more of a threat there, and would be able to aid Bynum in the lineup better than a lot of the backup centers in the league. A pairing of Bynum and Varejao could be extremely dangerous if we were to decide to slide Andy back to the four and if Cleveland were to keep him on the roster (which I think could be a devastating defensive, high-energy duo more so than Tristan Thompson at the four), but assigning Andy to start the game from the bench wouldn’t be a bad thing as well. He can play the four, as we’ve seen him there in the past, so signing Bynum adds way more flexibility to our team’s rotation.
A lineup that would start Irving, Dion Waiters, Clark (?), Thompson and Bynum immediately, when healthy, makes us an exhaustive force to reckon with. And even toward the end of games, where players like Kyrie and Bynum are at their best, would be an almost unstoppable duo in clutch time. In 2011-12, with Bynum on the floor in clutch situations, the Lakers won 73.3 percent of the time, and his per 48 stats saw him average 28.1 points and shoot 76.1 percent from the field according to 82games.com. Irving, who was one of the best clutch players in his rookie season, improved on his per 48 numbers and actually led the league in clutch scoring (53.6 points per 48 minutes). His assists shot up from a 5.9 APG average to a 6.7 APG per 48 minutes, and with Bynum on his side those numbers would only improve.
While news came up of Bynum wanting to wait and see if Dallas will make the necessary moves that will further entice him to play for the Mavs, Cleveland wants the 7-0 center to make a decision as soon as possible so they can pursue other options if need be. After reports came out that Bynum would make a decision on Tuesday before even meeting with Dallas, his agent, David Lee, later clarified that there is no timetable as to when we will hear of his signing. On paper, with a healthy squad, this team would definitely be able to compete for a playoff spot and might even be able to snag a five or six seed if the right cards land in their hand. Wine and Gold fans will have to play the waiting game to see if Cleveland can bring one of the most promising, yet frustrating, free agents of the 2013 offseason.