Larry Bird is a basketball mastermind, but can he resurrect Andrew Bynum’s career bringing him to Indianapolis?
By Justin Ullestad
With SuperBowl weekend all wrapped up, the story that was somewhat lost in the fold was the signing of Andrew Bynum by the Indiana Pacers. The Chicago Bulls waived the former All-Star center, soon after being traded from the Cleveland Caveliers in mid-January. Bynum had made his intentions known that he wanted to sign with a championship contender, and got his wish with Saturday’s signing. The Pacers were certainly not the favorite to land Bynum (Clippers and Heat), but with the addition of Bynum to the already solid second unit, they may have the best 10-man rotation in the game today.
Why this makes sense for the Pacers?
One of the most talked about reasons (but much less important) for the Pacers signing Andrew Bynum was to prevent the Miami Heat from signing him. Being only three games behind the first place Pacers, the Heat had been rumored to be looking at Bynum since he cleared waivers last month. The thought was that Miami needed to add some size down low for rebounding purposes (ranked 30th in ORB%) and to help defend against the dominant mass that is Roy Hibbert. Now whether Bynum would be effective with Miami…. we’ll never know. We are still in the “wait and see” phase with Greg Oden (ugh). Plus, it looks like Miami is trying to save “some” money after this season, as they reportedly only offered the veteran’s minimum to Bynum (which obviously wasn’t good enough for Bynum/his agent). I guess it doesn’t hurt not allowing him to go to Miami, but he had the opportunity to go there and chose not to.
The main reason this signing makes sense for the Pacers is the addition of depth to their already dominant frontcourt. At this moment, Roy Hibbert and David West are the starters with Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi coming off the bench. Both starters are quality players who can put up 20 points on any given night, along with 10+ rebounds. Luis Scola is an experienced player in this league (410 starts) with a career average of 13.6 pts and 7.3 rebs a game. A team with a frontcourt built on defense with Hibbert as the focal point. But what happens when Hibbert is off the floor for rest or foul trouble? The Game changes. The Pacers’ net points per 100 possessions this season with Hibbert on the floor is +9.3. With him off the floor, they are a dismal -.9. The size and strength from the center position is key to the Pacers defensive scheme, but they don’t have a player that can fill the gaps when Hibbert is not on the floor. That was until they signed Andrew Bynum.
Yes I know he’s a project. Yes I know he’s a liability for a locker room. But when healthy and in the right state of mind, he has shown that he can be one of the most dominant centers in the game on both sides of the ball. Remember, in his All-Star season (2011-2012), he averaged 18.7 ppg, 11.8 reb, and 2.5 blocks per game; numbers that would garner him a starting role on all but a few teams in the NBA today. There is potential, but it needs to be found again. But if Indiana can get even the level he was playing at earlier this season with Cleveland in limited minutes, that would help their second unit immensely and relinquish some of the pressure on Hibbert to stay out of foul trouble.
Oh yeah….and they didn’t have to trade Danny Granger to get a low post asset. That may be the biggest victory of them all. Now, if they still want to trade Granger, they can pick and choose their targets. Or keep him altogether (yes please, yes please).
What’s the risk?
The risk? Well…it’s actually pretty low. If it doesn’t pan out on the court or in the locker room, then you let him go at the end of the season (1-year contract). The highest level risk, if there is a high level, is the effect he could have on the locker room landscape in Indiana. With Bird and Vogel running the show, I don’t think Bynum would be a corruptive force in the locker room, however he was dismissed from the Cavaliers for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Regardless, I don’t think even Bynum would mess with Hibbert, West, and Stephenson. I’ll put it this way. Imagine having three “Old School Ron Artests” mentalities on your starting squad, but two of them are 250 pound guys. Yeah….Bynum can’t/won’t mess with this locker room.
Confidence in Larry Legend
As I stated in the sub heading, Larry Bird is a Basketball Mastermind. He is the only individual to earn player of the year, coach of the year, and executive of the year honors. He has helped bring the Pacers franchise back to prominence twice, both as a coach and an executive.
The question at hand is “can Larry Legend help Bynum get back to playing the game the right way?” Well, he has done it before. Just look at Lance Stephenson as an example.
ESPN’s Jalen Rose has been noted as saying that he is “One of Larry’s guys. You don’t leave Larry.” Lance Stephenson is one of Larry’s guys. Drafted in 2010 from the University of Cincinnati, Stephenson came in with a less than desirable personal record and attitude. He also came into the league with bad basketball habits with need to be groomed. And that’s exactly what the Pacers did. He rode the bench his first two seasons, but continued to work hard in the system. We started to see an effective, intelligent player emerge last season who could get hot from the field at any moment in time (also known as Good Lance/Bad Lance during last years post-season run). He has since emerged as a SNUBBED All-Star and has been a consistent player for Indiana this season. But the real testament to Coach Vogel and The Legend’s tutoring has been his effectiveness passing the ball. Known for being a selfish player during his college years, Stephenson has transformed into player that is averaging 14 pts, 5 assists, and 7 rebs a game this season, including five triple-double performances.
So what does that mean for Bynum? It means that there is hope. Hope that the Indiana magic can be worked on a player that has seemingly lost his way over the past couple years. The guy has played for now four different teams in three seasons (most of which is his own fault but still…). If he is willing to listen and learn, the sky is the limit for a still young Andrew Bynum if he can stay on his feet.
Can Bynum still perform?
If fans are thinking that Bynum needs to be a productive member of the Pacers, most notably in the post season, to win a championship, Bynum will have to prove he can overcome a glaring weakness. Injuries. Knee injuries to be specific. Injuries that have sidelined him for multiple months at a time and damaged his reputation as a dominant NBA center. Now, he did perform at a somewhat acceptable rate in Cleveland (8pts, 5rebs), but the Pacers don’t need him to be the Lakers version of Bynum. They need 15-20 minutes of solid second unit play from a player who is certainly capable of giving a team that. He needs to be in better shape, and his minutes still need to be monitored due to his injury history, but if healthy, we should expect him to be effective in a limited role.
Are we ever going to see the Bynum of old? Probably not. Certainly not this season. But can he do damage control on his career and personal persona with a “turn around” in Indiana? Absolutely.
Projected two deep for the Indiana Pacers
That’s a pretty damn good lineup. On paper, there’s no other two deep lineup in the league that could match the Pacers talent. And even if Bynum doesn’t work out, they still have the matchup upper hand against the Miami Heat. But if Bynum does work out….that’s a two-deep 7’0” monster in the middle protecting the rim and taking whoever Miami puts out there at the 5 position to the post and running them over.
I’m not saying that Bynum was the smartest option, or the best option. But for basketball reasons, there is basically no risk to signing Bynum at this point. Strong team. Strong locker room. Strong management and front office. Strong culture. Everything that could prevent Bynum from imploding an organization is already in place. It’s all up to Bynum and Larry Bird now. And personally, I will always put my chips in with The Legend.