Big Man on Campus
On Friday morning, on the other side of the door to Andrew Bynum’s introductory presser, the playing floor at Cleveland Clinic Courts was being completely refinished – serving as some pretty strong symbolism for another Friday in a franchise-altering summer.
One week earlier in Independence, the Wine and Gold rolled out the welcome mat for a duo of free agent acquisitions, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark.
On Friday, the Cavaliers introduced another big fish they’d recently reeled in. This time it was Bynum, an All-Star center and two-time World Champion with the Lakers.
Introduced by Cavs GM Chris Grant, Bynum looked and sounded like a man ready to revive his career in Cleveland. The 26-year-old has already started 300 games over the course of his seven-year career, although knee injuries sidelined him for an entire season last year. When healthy, Bynum has proven himself one of the best young bigs in the NBA.
“I have had a year off, had a year to watch basketball and really learn the game from the outside-in,” said Bynum. “And I see what I need to do. And I’m just anxious, I’m ready to start. And come Monday, I’ll be working.”
Bynum was originally picked by the Lakers with the No. 10 overall pick in 2005 out of St. Joseph HS in Metuchen, NJ. He won a pair of titles in Tinseltown before being dealt to Philadelphia in a four-team trade last August.
In seven seasons, he’s played in 392 games – averaging 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per contest while shooting .566 from the floor. Before being dealt to Philly, Bynum posted career-highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8) – and was named an All-Star starter for the Western Conference – for then-Lakers coach Mike Brown.
Brown is now the bench boss in Cleveland, and Bynum – like Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark the previous week – expressed his excitement to play for the defensive-minded head coach.
"We have a great relationship,” said Bynum. “I had my best year under him, my most productive year. And he really wants to get the ball inside. And he sets it up for me and the team to be successful. I’m looking forward to working with him again and it’s another reason it makes it comfortable for me to be here. Having worked with him already, I know what to expect.”
Bynum has already moved to Cleveland and is working with the Cavaliers training staff. And he and his former (and current) head coach have already discussed his role with the team.
“(Coach Brown) is really, really big on chemistry,” relayed Bynum. “He’s aware that a team with no chemistry, no matter how talented it is, won’t go far as it should. And that’s a really big preaching point for him. And we’ve already talked … about my role as a leader in the locker room, being more vocal, and really just maturing as a player.”
GM Chris Grant – who’s already had a busy, productive summer – spoke of a changed man as he introduced the prized seven-footer to the Cleveland media.
“I know he’s very hungry right now,” said Grant. “Andrew’s in a different place right now and he’s excited to move forward. We’re all aware of what his injuries have been and he’s well-aware of that, he’s taken ownership of the process. And we’re going to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed. We’re looking forward to getting the court refinished and get our guys back on that court.”
Bynum is eager to get past the knee injuries that sidelined him and talked of his road to recovery here in Cleveland.
“I really believe in the doctors here and the training staff,” said Bynum. “And I’m in a different place, because after the surgery I feel a lot better than I did last year. With the time off, I’ve been able to get the swelling out, and I’m just ready to work. I’m going to be in this gym as much as possible to get my game back to the level that I know I can.”
The New Jersey native has averaged double-digit scoring in his last five seasons before his injury and has averaged double-digit boards in two of those six campaigns. He mentioned working with another double-double guy along the new-and-improved Cavaliers front line.
“I can’t wait to play with Anderson (Varejao), honestly,” smiled Bynum. “He brings the kind of passion and energy for the game that I really haven’t been around. I’ve played with Kobe, but (Varejao’s) just a guy who’s willing to sacrifice everything for the team, (and) that goes leaps and bounds in the locker room.”
Even with the addition of the seven-year veteran, the Cavaliers are still currently the second-youngest team in the NBA. But with Bynum, they add a player who’s been to the top of the NBA mountain and they add another piece to an impressive young collection of bigs that already features Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Varejao and Anthony Bennett – the top overall draft pick selected by Cleveland this past June.
Like the Cavalier fans who have seen a huge team transformation in just the past two months, Bynum seems like he’s already chomping at the bit to see where this season will lead.
“Going forward, I want to get back to All-Star level,” said Bynum. “I want to work extremely hard and get this team into the playoffs and really make some noise. I think the Cleveland fans deserve that.”