By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: He won’t call this his last chance, but it just might be. Suitors weren’t exactly lining up for Andrew Bynum this summer. He’s only 25, but bone bruises and cartilage issues in both knees have already left the former All-Star at a critical crossroads.
Left with little choice but to accept the Cavs’ incentive-laden, two-year offer, Bynum has been hard at work trying to get back on a basketball court for the first time since the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs in 2012.
As he faced reporters during Monday’s media day session, Bynum’s message was simple: He doesn’t know when he’ll be back, but he is certain he will play for the Cavs this season.
“Definitely will play,” he said.
Bynum is just one tentacle on a Cavs’ season wrapped together in bandages. If all of the key figures stay healthy, this will almost certainly be a playoff team in April. But given the lengthy injury histories to Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving, that is a dangerous assumption.
Varejao called staying healthy last season his No. 1 goal. That disintegrated in January when he banged knees with an opponent on the court, which led to a split quadriceps muscle, which led to surgery, which led to a blood clot, which ended his season prematurely.
“My goal is the same: Stay healthy,” Varejao said. “Unfortunately, last year I got hurt. I have no control over that. The injuries I’ve had were freak injuries and bad luck.”
Cavs General Manager Chris Grant spent nine months researching injuries, which led to an overhaul of the Cavs’ “performance team” staff. Alex Moore, previously the strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski team, was hired as director of the Cavs’ performance team, which essentially puts him in charge of the training staff.
“I think there’s a lot of luck involved with [staying healthy] because it can happen at any time,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “In the same breath, injuries can be prevented. I believe CG has done a terrific job trying to make sure that our medical area is on the cutting edge of sports medicine. Hopefully with luck and the guys we have back there, we can keep our guys injury free, knock on wood.”
Varejao has played the equivalent of one season over his last three years, Irving has missed a quarter of the Cavs’ games since turning pro and Bynum missed all of last season. Then there’s top overall pick Anthony Bennett, who spent all summer rehabbing from shoulder surgery, although Bennett is healthy now and ready for camp.
“We’re trying not to be reactive,” Bynum said, echoing the Cavs’ new philosophy of trying to be more proactive regarding injuries. “We want to get out ahead of everything and really focus on making sure my body is ready to play, all my muscles are strong and I give myself the best chance possible.”
Bynum, of course, insisted throughout last season he would eventually get on the court for the 76ers. Only he didn’t and has been pounded mercilessly in Philadelphia for it since.
Now he’s doing it again here, although the Cavs have been pleasantly surprised with his work ethic since signing him. He has rarely missed a day of workouts in the nearly three months since moving to Cleveland. He often rehabs the knees for five hours a day or more and is a ball of sweat when he’s finished.
“I felt like my approach had to change,” Bynum said. “I have to be more of a professional now than ever. Before I might come in and work out really hard and it might take an hour-and-a-half or two. Now my day is much more time-oriented. We have to make sure we target every single part of my body. My approach to the game has been a lot better over these last 2½ or 3 months and I’m looking forward to continuing it because I feel good.”
There is a belief that not all of Bynum’s troubles in Philadelphia were his fault. The 76ers did not have a physical therapist on staff to oversee Bynum’s rehab, a source with knowledge of Bynum’s past rehabs said, and when he was beginning to run in Philadelphia, he was doing it in a 4-foot pool with a concrete floor.
While Bynum is running and dunking on the court now (but not playing 5-on-5 yet), the Cavs eased him back into it by utilizing a HydroWorx therapy pool — essentially an underwater treadmill that eases the weight on joints during rehab.
They continue to be cautious with his rehab and no one will give any sort of timeline for when he’ll play.
“It’s mentally taxing [not having a firm return date], but at this point I know these people have my best interests at heart,” Bynum said. “I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going so far. I come here, I show in the morning and I go through my workout. That’s my mission.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.