It's not every day that an NBA team signs a 25-year-old All-Star for a "down payment" of just $6 million.
Then again, it's not every day that a player like Andrew Bynum, whose size and talent is surpassed only by the chronically poor condition of his knees and his mind, comes to market.
Yet, somehow, the Cleveland Cavaliers—hardly anyone's first pick as a free-agent destination (especially after the way LeBron James spurned them three years ago)—managed to lure in Bynum by way of a contract that's about as low on risk and high on reward as they come.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Bynum's deal with the Cavs could be worth up to $24.5 million over two years, with only half of the first year's $12 million guaranteed. The rest of his 2013-14 salary could be contingent on meeting goals that are easily reachable when healthy (e.g. competing in training camp, playing a certain amount of minutes over however many games, etc. per Adrian Wojnarowski), while the second year is subject to a team option.
At worst, Bynum spends another year testing the outer limits of tonsorial taste while earning slightly more than Jarrett Jack will. At best, he plays like the All-Star he was just two years ago, when he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 35.2 minutes per game with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bynum could still be a bargain even if he doesn't fully regain his 2011-12 form. He need only play most of his games and push the Cavs back into the playoffs for the first time since "The Decision" to justify a yearly expense on par with those incurred by Al Horford, Kris Humphries and Hedo Turkoglu in 2013-14.
Cleveland, for its part, has the requisite pieces in place to end its three-year draft lottery run, assuming 'Drew shows up focused and in proper shape come October. Kyrie Irving's already well on his way to superstardom and now sports an insurance policy in the form of ex-Golden State Warriors super-sub Jarrett Jack, in the event that his body breaks down at any point.
(Which, by the way, it has in each of the last three years, dating back to Irvings's freshman campaign at Duke.)
Mike Brown, in his Grover Cleveland-esque second go-round with the Cavs, will have plenty of options to sort through at power forward. Tristan Thompson, the incumbent starter, will be pushed for playing time by Anderson Varejao, who missed most of last season with a blood clot in his lower right lung, and Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
Bennett could also slide over to small forward, where only Alonzo Gee and former Laker Earl Clark currently stand in his way. At 6'7" and 240 pounds, Bennett's size leaves him better equipped to play on the wing, though his power and proficiency in the post would suggest otherwise.
The Cavs are still somewhat weak at the off-guard spot, with Dion Waiters unconcerned about competition from anyone save for, perhaps, CJ Miles.
On the whole, though, Bynum will be joining a young, athletic squad hungry for a leap out of the basement of the Eastern Conference. Mike Brown should bring plenty of energy, discipline and (most importantly) defensive know-how to a team that ranked among the bottom five in the league in defensive efficiency during each of Byron Scott's three years on the job.
Brown comes with the added bonus of having worked with Bynum before. He was the head coach of the Lakers when Bynum played his way into the All-Star Game as the starting center for the Western Conference in Orlando.
Granted, Brown and Bynum didn't always get along perfectly, to put it lightly. However, Brown's familiarity with Bynum's tendencies—basketball and otherwise—should allow for a more seamless fit between the potentially prolific pivot and his new club.
To be sure, there's no guarantee whatsoever that Bynum will be the savviest pickup of the 2013 offseason. The signings of Andrei Kirilenko (to the Brooklyn Nets) and Paul Millsap (to the Atlanta Hawks) bring far more certainty to the table, given each player's relatively pristine bill of health and history of stuffing the stat sheet, in addition to the significantly smaller financial commitments to be incurred therein.
Kirilenko will earn just over $3 million for each of his two years in Brooklyn (per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today), while Millsap will take in approximately $19 million between now and the summer of 2015.
Bynum, on the other hand, could cost Cleveland $12 million this coming season and $12.5 million the one after that. But that would be a good thing for the Cavs. It would mean that Bynum was not only healthy enough to play, but also effective enough to warrant having the option on his contract picked up.
And, unlike Kirilenko and Millsap, Bynum could embody the difference between making the playoffs and counting ping pong balls for his team. The Nets were ticketed for the 2014 postseason well before AK-47 "fell" into Mikhail Prokhorov's lap, and Atlanta's hopes for such were always going to hinge more heavily on Al Horford than on Millsap.
In truth, much of the credit for the brilliance behind Bynum's signing belongs to general manager Chris Grant and the rest of Cleveland's front office. We don't know what the Dallas Mavericks and the Hawks were offering 'Drew, but we do know what he'll get from Cleveland and, more importantly, that the Cavs were able to sell him on it.
If Bynum overcomes his persistent knee problems and lives up to his mid-20s talent, the move will look even more like a stroke of genius. And if he doesn't, the two parties will part ways at a negligible expense.
Such common-sense agreements are rare in the NBA, but so, too, are players parked so precariously between stardom and long-term absence, as is Andrew Bynum.
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