Player Review 2014: Andrew Bynum

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

Age: 26
Years Pro: 8
Status: Unrestricted free agent (as of midnight on June 30)
Key Stats: Averaged 11.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 18 minutes in two games with the Pacers. Averaged 15.1 points and 9.5 rebounds in 24 games with Cleveland before that.


The Andrew Bynum Era didn't turn out quite as the Pacers hoped, but you gotta admit: it was perfect while it lasted.

All two games of it.

Bynum played all of 35 minutes, 37 seconds in white (his first game) and blue (his last game), but displayed enough of the sheer physical girth and talent that had made him one of the NBA's best centers in healthier days to titillate the fan base. He also managed to create some controversy, as he has done throughout his career, only this time it wasn't of his own doing. 

Bynum hadn't played since Dec. 26 and was in need of further knee rehabilitation when the Pacers signed him on Feb. 1. He didn't suit up until March 11, when he played 15 ½ minutes against Boston at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He was an immediate revelation, leaving observers gaping at his massive size and skills around the basket, and finished with eight points and 10 rebounds in a victory. He skipped the next game, the first of a back-to-back set, then played again four nights later at Detroit. This time he scored 15 points, although hitting just 6-of-18 shots, and grabbed nine rebounds in another victory.

Photo Gallery: Andrew Bynum's 2013-14 Season-in-Review

And that was that.

He tweaked something in his “good” knee in that game according to team president Larry Bird, and was never able to play again despite further rehabilitation of his knees. His career could be over, although he hasn't announced a retirement and he did tell a TMZ photographer at the Los Angeles airport earlier this month that he would like to play again – preferably for the Lakers, the team that drafted him out of high school in 2005. He didn't sound hopeful, however, of ever again being the player who was an All-Star starter in 2012, when he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in his last season for the Lakers.

Bynum had a well-earned questionable reputation because of some of his behavior earlier in his NBA career, including his abbreviated recent stop in Cleveland at the start of last season. The Cavaliers, for whom he last played on Dec. 26, traded him to Chicago for Luol Deng, and the Bulls immediately released him to reduce their luxury tax exposure.

The Pacers' experiment didn't cost them much financially in the grand scheme of things, reportedly about $1 million. Bird later described it as a “no-brainer” move, an attempt to add a proven big man who could back up Roy Hibbert and provide further insurance if Hibbert or Ian Manhimi couldn't play.   

Did Bynum cost the Pacers in other ways, though? Some media speculation, generally from people who never attended a practice or visited the locker room, and citing anonymous sources if any at all, claimed his mere presence made Hibbert felt threatened and caused a drop-off in Hibbert's play. There's no statistical or anecdotal evidence to support that argument, however. Hibbert scored 20 points the night Bynum signed with the Pacers, and didn't have a resurgence when Bynum was released. Hibbert also stated he hadn't been bothered by the addition of Bynum. Paul George backed that argument, as did backup center Ian Mahinmi, who had the best reason to feel threatened by Bynum's presence, but actually played better after Bynum was signed. Mahinmi, for one, laughed out loud when it was suggested Bynum had affected Hibbert's play.

So, there's that. All that, in fact.

This much is certain: Bynum ranks as the obvious MVP of the Pacers' all-time Here and Gone Squad, the 15 players who have made appearances in just one or two games. The others:

Player G Min. Pts.
Byron Dinkins (1990-91) 2 5 2
Dick Grubar (1969-70) 2 8 4
Darvin Ham (1996-97)         1 5 3
Ralph Jackson (1984-85) 1 12 2
Tracy Jackson (1983-84)      2 10 6
Butch Joyner (1968-69) 2 5 0
Clyde Mayes (1976-77)        2 21 7
Gerald McKee (1969-70)   1 0 3
Dominic McGuire (2012-13) 2 12 0
Richard Morton (1988-89) 2 11 6
Willie Smith (1977-78)  1 0 7
Jack Thompson (1968-69) 2 5 2
Sedric Toney (1988-89)         2 9 2
Reggie Williams (1996-97)   2 33 5

They live on only in the hearts of diehard fans with sharp memories and the fine print of the media guide.

One can only wonder what difference a healthy Bynum might have made in the playoffs, as Hibbert struggled to find consistency. We'll never know. But Bird, never one to shy from a controversial player with talent, has no regrets over taking a shot.

“Good kid; really enjoyed him,” Bird said. “I was around him quite a bit.”

Unfortunately, Pacers fans can't say the same.