NBA PM: Cavs Scarier With Healthy Bynum
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Cavaliers Scarier With Healthy Bynum
It had been over one year and five months – 528 days to be exact – since Andrew Bynum last played in an NBA game. His last appearance was in his final game with the Los Angeles Lakers, a playoff loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on May 21, 2012.
Since then, Bynum has been on two more teams, the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. While he failed to play any games for the 76ers last season due to injuries, he made his debut as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in the team’s season opener against the Brooklyn Nets.
It was somewhat of a surprise to see Bynum back on the court, since he sat out for the entire preseason and was cleared to play just hours before tip-off in Cleveland. However, he wanted to get back out on the court as soon as possible, and he was thrilled to be playing again.
“I’ve been here in Cleveland the last three months just working hard and I wanted to play [in the season opener],” Bynum said. “I just wanted to get back and be with the guys.”
Bynum finished with three points, three rebounds and two blocks, playing just over seven minutes in the Cavaliers’ win. The team is understandably taking things very slowly with the center so that he remains healthy, but his minutes should gradually increase in the coming weeks.
“I feel good right now,” Bynum said after the game. “I’m going to have to see how I feel tomorrow, but at the moment I feel fine. The team is going to be very cautious; I’m going to be very cautious. We want to make [my health] continue to rise and get better. At the end of the day, I think we played pretty well out there. … Today was just a general base. I felt really good and ran the fastest I have down the court. My timing is off right now, but that’s to be expected. I feel like it’s going to come back, the more practice I have and the more time I play.”
Throughout the game, Bynum kept asking Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown if he could check back into the game, but Brown felt it was best to limit his minutes as much as possible in the first game back.
“I thought he was good,” Brown said. “He kept asking me, ‘Coach, I can give you three more minutes here.’ He looked good. You can tell we’re a different team when he’s out there. The ironic part is I coached him for a year in L.A. and he still has room to grow. You guys only saw a taste of what he can bring to the table for our team. It was exciting to see him out there, not only for myself but for all the coaches, players and fans.”
Brown has an excellent point, as Bynum is still just 26 years old with plenty of upside. Bynum’s resume is certainly impressive, with two championship rings, an All-Star appearance and All-NBA Second Team honors under his belt.
When healthy, there’s no question that Bynum is one of the best centers in the league, as evidenced by his final season with the Lakers when he averaged a career-high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds. The center also posted the best efficiency rating of his career (23.00), which ranked ninth among all NBA starters – only LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose finished with higher PERs.
Over the offseason, the Cavs decided to sign Bynum to a partially guaranteed deal that will pay the center between $6 million and $24.79 million over the next two years. Only $6 million of the first season is guaranteed and none of the money is guaranteed in the second season. This was a low-risk, high-reward move by Cleveland – if he’s effective, it’s a steal; if he struggles, they have an out. The Cavaliers have made it clear that they want to break their three-year playoff drought this season and if Bynum can stay healthy and return to All-Star form after reuniting with Brown, he makes the Cavaliers a much scarier team.
When Bynum checked into the game on Wednesday, the fans gave him a standing ovation. In recent weeks, Bynum’s status was up in the air so Cleveland fans had no idea what to expect from the big man. They were ecstatic to see him healthy and playing in the team’s first game.
“The crowd had a huge part to play in that,” Bynum said of the lift he gave the team when he checked in. “When I got onto the court, that was a great ovation; it gave me energy and the entire team was able to feed off of it, make plays and got some defensive stands.”
In his first game back, Bynum’s teammates realized that his presence changes the dynamic of the team.
“We had more energy, the crowd got involved and it was just different,” Dion Waiters said of the team’s play with Bynum in the game. “He’s a big body out there and he blocks shots. He changed the game out there. He changed the game. He gave us some momentum, and I’m just glad he’s back out there doing what he loves. I’m just happy for him.”
“He’s been working very diligently to get back to be able to play a game,” Jarrett Jack added. “We were going to let him take his time. We know there was enough swirling around him as far as speculation to play and he hasn’t played in over a year. We were just kind of letting him take his time, let him settle in. We didn’t want to put pressure on top of pressure. I thought he came in, provided us with a physical presence down low on the defensive end as well as the offensive end. I thought it was a great first effort.”
Bynum’s status and productivity going forward will likely determine just how good this Cavaliers team can be. If he’s once again a dominating post player who’s capable of making his presence felt on both ends of the floor, the Cavaliers will be better than expected and should reach the postseason. If he’s not able to get on the court, he could be a waste of a roster spot, as the 76ers learned last year. This is certainly something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, but Bynum’s day one debut is a positive sign for Cleveland.
Are you excited about the 2014 NBA Draft class? HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis offers up his first NBA mock draft of the season. Check it out here!
Smart Second Guesses Return to College
Last year, I wrote an open letter to all of the top draft prospects who were on the fence about leaving school for the NBA. The letter said that they shouldn’t return to school because they shouldn’t risk injury, that they should take advantage of the weak draft class rather than joining the loaded 2014 class, that players like Willie Warren, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger are excellent examples of why prospects shouldn’t stay to school if they’re projected to be a top pick.
Four of the five players that I addressed decided to enter the NBA – Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad and Victor Oladipo. One of the players – Marcus Smart – decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season rather than declaring for the draft. Had he been in the class, Smart likely would’ve been the second overall pick since the Orlando Magic desperately wanted a point guard and had fell in love with Smart during the season. Instead, Smart is getting ready for his second college season and the Magic are trying to transform Oladipo into a point guard.
Now, several months after making his decision, Smart is second guessing himself. In a recent interview, Smart confessed that he’s not sure if he made the right move.
“I’m still not 100 percent right now,” Smart told ESPN.com. “I don’t regret it. But I’m not 100 percent sure that was the right decision. But I don’t regret making it because you can never come back to college and be a student-athlete. The NBA? You can have chances to go.”
The hardest part for Smart was watching the draft and seeing the rest of the nation’s college stars get picked and signed to lucrative contracts. Watching other players get paid wasn’t easy for Smart.
“It was definitely the money,” Smart said. “That was a lot of money that was put to the side for another year. It wasn’t turned down. It’s not like I’m not going to be there, but it was just put to the side for another year. As an 18-year-old kid, you’re looking like I can make more money than 95 percent of America can ever dream of making their whole life. So definitely, it was the money that had a [great] deal to do with it.”
While Smart is hoping that the money will still be there for him next year, it’s possible that he misses out on some of those dollars. If gets injured, he could lose out on all of it. But even if he stays healthy, it’s possible he could slip on draft night considering this incoming class is loaded with franchise-changing players including Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum among others. If he were to slide down draft boards next summer, he could lose millions of dollars.
Sullinger hoped that the money would still be there for him when he returned to school, but a mediocre sophomore season and back issue caused him to slip to the 21st pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Had Sullinger been the first overall pick in 2011, as projected, he would have made $4,286,900 in his first season and a total of $19,331,674 on his first contract. As the 21st overall pick, he’s making $1,089,100 in his first season and a total of $5,305,350 on his first contract.
Jones III went from being projected as a top pick to falling all the way to 28th in the 2012 NBA Draft. As the 28th pick, Jones is making just $863,300 in his first season and $4,404,905 on his first contract (or close to what he would’ve made as a rookie had he entered the draft in 2011).
However, Smart believes he’ll still be a top pick, even with so many talented players in next year’s draft.
“So you mean to tell me I’m not good enough to play with those guys next year just because it’s a stronger draft?” Smart said. “I have to go now? Why? All the guys that were supposed to be ranked ahead of me coming out of high school, I surpassed most of those guys. … For you to say that is just an insult to me.”
Only time will tell if Smart made the right decision.