Andrew Bynum isn’t the rare talent he once was.
Surely the 7-footer can recuperate his powerful post game and dexterous defense after extended time lost to injury, but he’s no longer unique.
The talent has shifted and the league now features a growing number of talented bigs in the NBA. Bynum was once an interior luxury in the NBA, but now an interior presence like his is a necessity.
Consequently, the Dallas Mavericks recognize the importance of placing a center like Bynum next to Dirk Nowitizki—even at the risk of further knee injuries.
Bynum is still just 25 years old and, during his last healthy season in 2011-12, he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
In missing the entirety of last season, Bynum became less of a rarity.
The NBA now has plenty of quality centers: Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, Joakim Noah, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, DeMarcus Cousins, Omer Asik and others.
Howard still remains the league’s top center and his move to the Houston Rockets creates a sudden stare over to the Dallas Mavericks: “Hey, what’ve you got?”
The Rockets have been completely remodeled since the last time Bynum played a game, now featuring Howard, James Harden and Jeremy Lin as well as the improving play of Chandler Parsons and Asik.
Meanwhile, the neighboring Mavericks have spiraled downward since winning a title in 2011.
Apparently, neither Nowitzki nor owner Mark Cuban can recruit in the offseason, considering the team has been stagnant in signing top-tier free-agent talent in each of the last two summers. The team has no true trade pieces and the roster currently looks worse off than it did at the end of last year's non-playoff campaign.
There was no contingency plan after missing out in the Howard sweepstakes, except for rolling the dice on the question mark that is Bynum. He had arthroscopic knee surgery on both knees in March and the hope is he will soon be back to All-Star form.
The issue for Dallas is guaranteeing that Bynum will be healthy. According to ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein, the Mavericks have been “exhaustive” in their research in this department.
The West is only growing stronger. Howard boosts a Houston frontcourt that already includes Asik while the other Texas neighbors, the San Antonio Spurs, feature the inside combination of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter.
The Mavericks don’t even have Chris Kaman anymore.
To compete, Dallas has to chase the upside of Bynum. The team meets with the center on Wednesday and the competition for his services is only growing.
Stein reported Wednesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers offered Bynum an incentive-laden, $12 million deal for two years, with the second being a team option. That’s a pretty low-risk, high-reward deal for the Cavaliers.
It also gives Bynum the opportunity to showcase his talent and earn a future contract worth much more money.
But if you are the Mavericks, you must do more. The Cavaliers already sit pretty with quality bigs Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller and even tweener first overall pick Anthony Bennett to go along with blossoming superstar Kyrie Irving.
Dallas, on the other hand, brings far more urgency to the negotiating table. The team's only center currently under contract is Bernard James. Nikola Pekovic remains a restricted free agent, but it's going to take a hefty contract to swipe him away from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
According to Hoopsworld, Dallas still has plenty of space remaining under the newly set $58.7 million salary cap and the $71.7 million luxury tax threshold:
Taking a gamble on the health of Bynum seems to be the only option in returning to relevance in the Western Conference. If he returns to All-Star form, the Mavericks' frontcourt of Bynum-Nowitzki becomes a formidable threat.
It could, at its height of potential, even rival the Rockets' combo of Harden and Howard. Whether or not either team has enough juice to compete for the conference crown amongst the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors may be another question.
Still, Bynum has the potential—again, emphasis on potential—to be an elite center. If the Mavericks take the plunge, it could pay off in the form of a counter to the Rockets landing Howard.
A center like Bynum is no longer a luxury item. He's absolutely needed if the Mavericks hope to compete in the final phase of Nowitzki's career.