Sep 19, 2013, 10:59 AM EDT
Generally speaking, despite all the heartbreak and sleepless nights he caused us in his one inactive season as a Philadelphia 76er, I’ve maintained that I wish the best for Andrew Bynum at his next destination. Bynum’s super-disappointing year in Philly wasn’t really his fault, and the Cavs fans have probably suffered enough post-LeBron decision without a seven-foot mess of big hair and bad decisions adding to their state of spiritual unrest. We’re certainly moving on, with our new lord and savior Sam Hinkie, so may as well let Bynum do likewise.
Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make my black heart skip a beat or two to read that Bynum is still crazy injured, and will very likely miss the entire pre-season for the Cavs, and is far from a certainty for opening night of the season proper. “This is how it begins,” I chuckled to myself, as I leaned back in my recliner and took a few puffs from my comically oversized cigar. “This is how it begins.”
Yes, it seems like even if I’m ready to move on, I’m not quite ready to forgive and forget entirely. I was burned too badly, left too embarrassed and hopeless and empty inside to let go of my bitterness entirely. I’m over Andrew Bynum, but not so over him that I want to be risking running into him in the street with the Cavaliers and having to be all “Oh, hi, Andrew, how have you been? Wow, you look great, is that the Caesar you’re rocking now? Hey, it works for you! Oh, and this is…this is your new team? Gonna be suiting up with them opening night? Well, that’s great, that’s…I’m glad you’re happy, really. Heading over to Dave & Busters now, huh? No, no, you guys go ahead, have fun…the Sixers are playing a pre-season game in Spain tomorrow afternoon anyway, I gotta watch D-League footage of Darius Morris to see if he’s improved his decision making in the pick-and-roll in the off-season. Hey, gimme a call next time you’re in town, we’ll go mini-golfing! Nothing in your new contract about you not going mini-golfing, is there? Hahahaha! Ahh…yeah, no, go ahead, we’ll catch up next time. You still have my old number, right?”
Nope, can’t have that. I might not want Cavs fans to suffer exactly as much as I have with Bynum, but it probably wouldn’t be the best thing for my mental health for his days in Cleveland to be all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows either. Some sort of middle ground, in which Cavs fans at least get a taste of quality Bynum without getting to straight-up OD on him, would probably feel about right for me.
And ultimately, this is a decision that all Sixers fans must make going into next season: What level of misery do we wish on Cavs fans over the course of their team’s two-year, up to $24 million deal with Bynum? I see there being four potential levels at play here:
Level #1: Bynum at his L.A. worst. The seven-footer stays healthy all season and plays at close to his peak, borderline-All-Star level for the Cavs, but proves a little too big a fish for the small pond of the Cleve, acting out in all the worst ways that he did in Los Angeles: Ignoring coach instructions, skipping practices, pissing off neighbors with his impossibly loud Grand Theft Auto V sessions at 3:00 in the morning, publicly loitering with high school kids, drinking from open containers while jaywalking, and loudly and obnoxiously protesting the exclusion of King Crimson from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Bynum’s health woes have been so tremendous lately that we tend to forget what a headache he was for Laker fans even at his best, just for his off-court behavior alone. Even if he stays healthy and plays decently, he could always be more trouble than he’s worth based on his headline-grabbing antics, where you start dreading going on Twitter because you’re afraid to see for what ridiculous reason “Andrew Bynum” is a trending topic now. (Of course, Sixer fans would’ve given weeks off their life to experience this level of misery last season. All relative.)
Level #2: Don’t Know What’s Gone (Til You Got It). Andrew returns shortly into the season and plays splendidly for the first months of the season, displaying brilliant pick-and-roll chemistry with Kyrie Irving, excellent frontcourt balance with Tristan Thompson, and a general toughness and swagger missing from the post-LeBron days in Cleveland. Then one day in February, he tweaks an ankle, and all of a sudden he’s out for a week, which turns into a month, which turns into he gets back when he gets back.
For the rest of his Cavs days, Bynum is an uncertainty, returning to the lineup for a homestand but then not joining the team on the road, sitting out the end of the season to rest for the playoffs, but then still “questionable” for Game One of the first round. When he plays, he’s Andrew Bynum, but when he doesn’t play, he’s even Andrew Bynum-er, growing Moses beards and flirting with chicks in the VIP section on the sideline, and constantly making fart jokes during important team huddles. He’s never as consistently healthy or productive again as he was in those first few months, and Cleveland fans are all the more miserable for knowing what they’re missing.
Level #3: Old Man Bynum. Bynum returns shortly into the season, but bears little resemblance to the 20-10 threat he was his last seasons with the Lakers. Rather, this Andrew Bynum is plodding, lead-footed, and totally overmatched on the defensive end, abused by athletic big men and speedy point guards alike. He only misses time with injury sporadically, but he never looks totally healthy either, and fans and pundits speculate about what lingering issues might be holding Bynum back from being his old self again, with certain writers calling for him to be shut down altogether.
Every once in a while, Bynum puts together a “Turn Back the Clock” game, in which he goes off for 27 and 14 and looks a little less lethargic than usual running the court and maneuvering in the post, leading fans to believe he might have finally turned the corner. But these games rarely come consecutively, and are in fact usually followed up with some of his biggest clunkers of the season. Bynum never lives up to his potential, and ultimately proves a step back for the supposedly ascendant Cavaliers. (Sixer fans, of course, are already intimately familiar with this type of misery from Elton Brand’s inglorious first two seasons in Philadelphia.)
I’m probably hoping for somewhere between Level #1 and Level #2. I wouldn’t mind him having some good moments for the Cavs, maybe even a big playoff series or two, but if he was healthy and productive for all or even most of the season, that would be pretty tough to swallow. And if he can sneak some off-court ridiculousness in there as well, so much the better–nobody in the league does crazy quite as entertainingly as Andrew Bynum.
Of course, even at the highest form of misery, Cavs fans will never quite suffer as we have. They have the advantage not only of low expectations with Bynum, but of not having given up very little in money or resources to acquire him, and of even having a backup plan in place in the form of Anderson Varejao, their previous starting center, who might have made the East’s All-Star team last year if he was able to stay healthy. Oh, and they also have Kyrie Irving, and the #1 pick from last year’s draft. They’ll be fine regardless, and that’s much more than you could have said for last year’s Sixers team.
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