The courtship of Andrew Bynum begins: Examining the center’s potential suitors
The Cavaliers’ decision to trade Andrew Bynum to the Bulls not only changed the course of those two franchises but also created a unique scenario in which other teams could compete to sign a notable talent midseason.
Although he in no way lived up to his reputation or his previous standard as a member of the Cavs, Bynum is a skilled 7-footer all the same. Teams will line up to take a chance on a player of his ilk, and according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com, as many as eight are expected to vie for Bynum’s services for the remainder of the season. Some are in a better position to make him an offer than others, but below are a collection of teams that could potentially be in the running.
• Miami Heat — Miami is bound to be mentioned when any remotely interesting point guard or center becomes available. In theory, the Heat are in position to take a flier on a risky pickup like Bynum. In basketball terms, though, one could hardly find a more awkward fit. Miami thrives through its ability to leverage space and pressure opponents defensively, both of which would be tricky with the lumbering Bynum, a post-up player, in the mix. He’s not a bad source for the occasional post score, but I’d question whether the Heat — who aren’t exactly hurting for offensive efficiency — really need such a thing.
The more specific value of signing Bynum might lie in countering the formidable Pacers, but that would be an exceedingly narrow purpose for a player who will only increase Miami’s tax bill. The Heat could offer Bynum anything up to the $3.2 million taxpayer mid-level exception, which has gone unused since the offseason. But remember that Miami amnestied Mike Miller for the sole purpose of alleviating its tax burden, trusting in those players who remained — with a few minimum-salary additions — to complete the three-peat. That last bit provides the fine print on a potential Bynum signing: With the contract-guarantee deadline having functionally passed, one such minimum-salary player (Michael Beasley, Greg Oden or Roger Mason) would have to be released at a cost simply to clear a roster spot.
• Brooklyn Nets — Brooklyn’s potential courtship of Bynum comes down to two factors: the Nets’ willingness to lean on yet another player limited by injury and how little regard Mikhail Prokhorov has for money. As far as the former, Bynum is hardly the image of stability for a team that badly needs it. The Nets play stilted, out-of-sync basketball in part because they’ve played much of their season as an incomplete team. Bynum might only contribute to that, as his ability to play regular minutes at a high level is very much in question.
With regard to the money, Brooklyn has the ability to sign Bynum to a salary up to $5.2 million for one year — courtesy of a league-granted disabled player exception — but may lack the financial abandon. That’s an odd thing to say of a team and owner that are already projected to shell out $189 million this season between roster salary and the luxury tax, though at some point a line needs to be drawn to hedge against Brooklyn’s 13-21 record. If the Nets signed Bynum for any significant portion of that disabled player exception, they could be adding some $20 million to their tax bill. That might be a bridge too far even for the free-spending Prokhorov.
• Oklahoma City Thunder — This one’s a complete long shot because it’s unlikely that the culture-conscious Thunder would seriously consider bringing in a player who was cut loose for bad behavior. Still, at the very least it’s interesting that Oklahoma City skirted roughly $2.3 million under the luxury-tax line by finding a taker for Ryan Gomes while still having the $2 million biannual exception and full mid-level exception ($5.2 million) in its back pocket. Some move might be coming for the Thunder, and acquiring Bynum could help the team transition away from its self-imposed dependence on Kendrick Perkins.
• New Orleans Pelicans — Coach Monty Williams still doesn’t quite seem comfortable with the various arrangements of his frontcourt players, but he could draw on a more conventional, low-post center option if the Pelicans added Bynum. They have the full room exception (worth $2.7 million) to entice him, but he would have to be sold on the prospect of competing for a playoff spot as opposed to contending for a title. How much that matters to Bynum remains to be seen, as does New Orleans’ willingness to take the plunge on yet another significant addition with its reshaped roster settling in.
Also worth noting: New Orleans recently signed Alexis Ajinca to fill minutes at center, and he’s done so capably. Ajinca isn’t so good as to rule out Bynum as a possibility, but his addition certainly qualifies as a mitigating factor.
• Atlanta Hawks — One of the better fits on the board. Atlanta was among the handful of teams to meet with Bynum during free agency last summer, and its need for center help has only grown since. Al Horford’s season-ending pectoral injury has changed the trajectory of the team quite a bit. While still third in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have petered out with three straight losses and a ramshackle frontcourt rotation. Bynum could help on that front in controlled minutes while benefiting from Paul Millsap’s support, Jeff Teague’s playmaking and Kyle Korver’s spot shooting.
The unexpected release of Cartier Martin also gives Atlanta the requisite roster spot to make a move. It could be Bynum’s, provided he would be content with Atlanta’s station as a non-contender and a salary within the Hawks’ remaining room exception.
• Charlotte Bobcats — Another room-exception candidate in a position to take a chance. Charlotte has taken a tumble in dropping eight of its last 10 games and could very much use a backup to Al Jefferson with some ability to create offense. Bynum fits the bill, but he’d have to consent to playing a complementary role for a lesser team on a modest salary. I doubt that’s what Bynum has in mind for his midseason courtship, but I could understand why Charlotte might be interested in making its pitch.
If Bynum — who already had his coffers lined by the Lakers, Sixers and Cavaliers — is willing to play for the prorated veteran minimum, he’ll likely have an opportunity to join a potential championship contender a solid playoff team or the Knicks:
• Los Angeles Clippers — Bynum is reportedly keen on the idea of joining the Clippers, and boy could they use the help. Leaning on the combination of Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins for regular minutes is a lamentable path toward contention, but the Clippers have had little other choice with their mid-level exception split between Darren Collison and Matt Barnes and their biannual exception still committed from signing Grant Hill last year. Even a stiff, slow Bynum would help a team so strapped for rotation-level talent in its frontcourt.
• Golden State Warriors — If the Warriors wanted to double-down on the Jermaine O’Neal experience, Bynum could be right in their wheelhouse. The whirring of the rumor mill seems to suggest that Golden State might be more interested in adding a reserve ball handler, but they warrant mentioning if only because Marreese Speights and David Lee continue to see regular minutes together. Bynum isn’t the defender that O’Neal was or that the Warriors need, but he’s a big body and he’s not Marreese Speights.
• Dallas Mavericks – The Mavs were a contender for Bynum’s services over the summer, and ESPN.com’s Marc Stein confirmed that they will be among the eight teams to pursue Bynum once he clears waivers. The issue there is that playing time is the most attractive element of Dallas’ offer, and even that can’t be guaranteed with coach Rick Carlisle so firmly in command of his team’s rotation. Last season Carlisle rightly benched center Chris Kaman, who was playing on a $9 million contract. This season he’s had his patience tested by Samuel Dalembert, who has deservedly been yo-yoed in and out of the starting lineup. I doubt Carlisle would have much more tolerance for Bynum’s brand of coach irritation, but the Mavs are desperate enough for help at the position that they might be able to make an exception.
• New York Knicks — Another oft-mentioned landing spot, given the Knicks’ across-the-board needs, but if you were in Bynum’s position, what would entice you to sign? The Knicks are 12-22 with a clear starter at Bynum’s position in Tyson Chandler. They have only the minimum salary to offer, having tied up their mid-level exception with Metta World Peace and Pablo Prigioni. They run an offense that revolves around a ball-dominant forward who likes to work in the post, employ a handful of shoot-first players at other positions and won’t be contending for anything of import. I’m sure the team’s desperation will stoke its interest, but what reason does Bynum have to oblige?