The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers made a pretty major trade on Monday, with the Cavs acquiring Luol Deng for a bunch of draft picks and Andrew Bynum – who the Bulls will waive and make an unrestricted free agent. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Knicks are among the teams expected to consider bringing him aboard. A few years ago, Bynum would have commanded a ton of money and interest on the open market. But times have certainly changed.
Bynum is undoubtedly a headcase – to put it lightly. The Cavs took a shot on him this offseason, only to suspend him last month for the always unclear “conduct detrimental to the team”, and obviously decided to cut their losses in the deal with the Bulls. According to Windhorst’s report, he also had a contemptuous relationship with teammates and coaches in Cleveland, which is not a shocking development for the former 10th overall pick.
The Knicks, past and present, do not shy away from dealing with difficult personalities. We can freak out all we want about J.R. Smith and his poor season so far, but he’s coming off a career year where he won a major NBA individual award. And it’s not like all of Smith’s baggage came following his tumultuous playoffs last season; J.R. had plenty of personal, off-court issues before he became a Knick. While the discourse around him often clouds it, Smith hasn’t been an unmitigated disaster, or a cancer, since he arrived in New York.
Although he’s basically revered by Knicks fans now, it’s worth remembering that they acquired Latrell Sprewell following an incident where physically attacked his head coach. “Conduct detrimental to the team” generally covers a lot of things, but I think it’s a step below choking the boss. Sprewell, clearly a lightning rod, enjoyed a career renaissance with the Knicks.
So there’s some precedent. The Knicks – and they’re obviously not the only team – have dealt with sketchy individuals before. If that’s the main reason for not taking a flier on Bynum, it’s a weak one. Bynum isn’t going to command a lot of money or extended years. Chances are, he’ll latch on with a club for the remainder of the season (any deal that extends past this season is obviously a deal breaker). With the Knicks in their current position, I’m not sure how bringing on a questionable character could really make things that much worse. The Knicks aren’t currently presenting much to be torpedoed by a bad apple.
The bigger and more pertinent question with Bynum then is exactly how much, if anything, he has left of his game. Injuries (and in fairness, likely his attitude and personal character as discussed above) have seemingly ruined a very promising career. Although it’s been a while since he’s been healthy, Bynum has proven to be a dynamic player when he can stay on the court. He holds a career PER of 19.6. Even in limited duty this season, Bynum played to a 15,5 PER (which would rank 4th on the Knicks this season). His 14.6 total rebound percentage would trail just Tyson Chandler, as would his block rate of 4.6. It’s hard to envision him staying healthy, but if he can, there’s a capable player in there somewhere.
With Kenyon Martin unable to play back-to-back games, or log heavy minutes in times with the schedule is congested, the Knicks could use another big body. They have two seven footers on the very end of the bench in Cole Aldrich and Jeremy Tyler, who rarely see any playing time. Provided the financial commitment is miniscule, as it could only be, would the Knicks be better off replacing one of those with Bynum?
If the Knicks signed Bynum, the best case scenario is he has something left, takes well to a change of scenery and provides the Knicks with a viable backup center option. The most likely scenario is that he plays sparingly due to nagging injuries, as has been the case recently and doesn’t make much of an impact. The worst case scenario is…what, exactly? He gets in fights with teammates and management? Given the current state of things, would that even be a bad thing?