I had been kicking around in my head the idea of investigating and breaking down the pros and cons of an Andrew Bynum and Los Angeles Lakers reunion for about a week. The morning after I decided to do it, this video went live on TMZ and made it a much more necessary exercise.
Many will dismiss this idea out of hand for a multitude of reasons, all of which are valid concerns the front office would need to investigate and address. The way he was cited as a locker room cancer in Cleveland, Indiana and Philadelphia can't be ignored. Bynum was kicked out of practice for launching three pointers and overall NGAFitude with the Cavaliers. It's absolutely fair to criticize him for that. Anyone who pulls that type of stunt at their job would be reprimanded as well. It's less fair to criticize him for the problems in Indiana and Philadelphia, though.
More on the Lakers
Should the Lakers re-sign Meeks?
Our roundtable discusses arguably the Los Angeles Lakers' most improved, and valuable, player: Jodie Meeks
More on the Lakers
In Indiana, the"locker room issue" he caused was just following the coaching staff's direction. Roy Hibbert's fragile ego was reportedly shattered when the team ran plays for Bynum that they rarely called for Hibbert. I hardly think this decision from Frank Vogel, due to Bynum being a more polished post-up player than Hibbert, is indicative of any type of transferable locker room issue.
In Philadelphia, the main criticism of Bynum stemmed from two things. The first was when he re-aggravated his knee injury while bowling. This was obviously a mistake on Bynum's part, but again, I do not see how this mistake is a transferable issue. Ultimately it was a poor decision, but who hasn't made an innocuous mistake in their 20s that ended up causing a larger issue? Luckily for us we don't have the media to cover it. The second criticism came from the "he is injured but still having fun as a multimillionaire in his 20s!? Unthinkable!!" crowd. I cannot get behind the viewpoint that someone should be criticized for finding ways to enjoy life (CRAZY HAIRSTYLES) while going through chronic pain and knee problems.
So while it would be negative if he were to pollute a locker room that will presumably be full of young players (and it is not a given that he would be a "pollutant" in the first place), I think it would also be fair to expect him to have to toe the line more around a strong locker room presence like Kobe in what would likely be his last NBA chance if things went haywire.
More concerning than his "attitude issues" are his injury ones. Bynum has been unable to stay healthy over the past two seasons, missing the entire season in Philadelphia and missing the majority of games this year for Cleveland and Indiana. He's played a grand total of 26 games since being traded from the Lakers two seasons ago. Bynum unquestionably had his best years under the Lakers training staff, but his body may just be unable to sustain the rigors of the NBA at this point, even under the care of Father Vitti. It cannot be known for sure how much of Bynum's health was made possible by the training staff, and how much of it was just luck and the fact that he was younger and thus his body less worn down. I would lean more towards believing the latter. It would seem that Bynum does as well, because when asked if he could return to old form, Bynum responds, "I don't think so." in his recent TMZ appearance.
Part of the reason why fans continue to give Bynum relevance, and teams continue to sign him, has to be affected by confirmation bias regarding his good performances when he can actually get out on the hardwood. He attracted a range of headlines and hype in his debut performance with Indiana, but that type of optimism of what Bynum "could contribute if healthy" somewhat ignores the fact that, you know, he cannot stay healthy. He may have nights where his numbers make someone think he can put it all together--like Jan. 6 against Atlanta when he dropped 20 and 13 with 2 blocks in about 26 minutes of game time--but for every game like that, there were handfuls of single-digit points and rebound games, not to mention all of the DNPs. There is a real possibility that he may never be a consistent contributor again.
So, with all of these neon disclaimers plastered over Bynum's post-Lakers resumé, and the issues he had in LA, why would Mitch Kupchak and the front office even want to sign him? Two factors: Price, and the potential that you are buying at that price tag relative to the rest of the market. Consider, for instance, that Bynum is listed by HoopsHype,(obviously not a perfect talent evaluation, but still) as the fifth-best available free agent center. Not too bad for a guy that could possibly be had for the minimum. Compare that with the four guys above him: Greg Monroe (restricted free agent with super-agent David Falk angling for a max contract), Marcin Gortat (looking at a larger double-figure contract to stay with Washington or with someone else after an impressive enough year), Spencer Hawes (LOLOLOLOL...NO) and Channing Frye (likely to be retained by the Suns at a raise above the $6.4 million he made this year).
After Bynum, the pickings get even more slim: Chris "Birdman" Andersen (unlikely to be as successful in a larger role than the perfect one he plays in Miami), Jermaine O'Neal (old, and if you want to dog Bynum for being injury prone, then you probably don't want to gamble on this guy's knees staying together), Chris Kaman (HA! Not going to happen again), Emeka Okafor (actually a semi- intriguing possibility, outlined in this Kevin Ding article as well as right here at Silver Screen and Roll), with Gustavo Ayon rounding out the top-ten and things getting truly depressing after that (Greg Oden! Lavoy Allen! Nazr Mohammed! Ryan Hollins!). The point is that factoring for the price, Bynum is arguably the most attractive option out of all of these guys, with the most potential to be a boom signing out of the low money/years guys other than possibly Okafor.
All of this is obviously conjecture at this stage. It is unknown who the Lakers coach will be, what type of offense that coach will be running, or even if the front office is so much as considering Bynum as an option in their search to fill its many roster holes. The team's roster needs will also fluctuate based on what other free agents they attempt to, or successfully, sign, as well as what player is acquired in the draft. As things stand though, it would seem to be a more attractive option to gamble a minimum salary slot on Bynum and hope everything goes right for the year, than it would be to overpay and acquire someone like Gortat or Monroe, thus preserving the Lakers' valuable financial flexibility to either look at other options this year (Lowry!) or just kick the can down the road so to speak and preserve a chance to pitch a superstar free agent like Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge next summer. Or Kevin Durant in 2016. Plus, who doesn't want to see the most chilled out frontcourt combination in NBA history in Robert Sacre and Big Drew? Just watch the knees, fellas.