SAN ANTONIO: There is going to come a point this season, perhaps sooner than later, when the Cavaliers and Andrew Bynum must have a candid conversation. Only one question will need to be asked and answered by both parties.
Is it worth it?
Is the pain he is still experiencing in his knees worth it to Bynum, who has earned $73 million, won two championships and appeared in an All-Star game? He has made his money and has nothing left to prove. He deserves significant credit for working so hard over the summer, for moving to Cleveland and dedicating so many hours to this rehab, to strengthening the muscles around his knees and giving it one more shot.
He still has moves around the basket. He has shown a drop step and a spin move, but ultimately he’s shooting less than 37 percent and moving like a man with two bad knees. So I asked him if all of this is worth it.
“I’m just going out there and focusing on having fun,” he said. “That’s it.”
It was only a couple of weeks ago when he said he had lost his joy for basketball. He’s still searching to get it back.
“I’m not worrying about anything else,” he said. “I’m just playing.”
The Cavaliers need to ask themselves if it’s worth it, too. They invested anywhere between $6 million and $12 million in Bynum, depending on the success of this experiment. He’s already playing in back-to-backs, which is a great sign, but this is a team with two separate identities — one with him on the floor and one without him.
The problem is he’s only playing about 20 minutes a night. When he’s there, the rest of the offense sometimes makes a concerted effort to run through him, at least for a few possessions. Then everyone seems to forget he’s still there and Bynum will go multiple trips without touching the ball.
The real problem might be Bynum himself because he’s the most pessimistic of anyone. Clearly he is still battling some demons, still swallowing pride and adjusting to his new NBA life. Mike Brown and those close to Bynum all sound upbeat and optimistic … except he doesn’t.
I asked him following Wednesday’s home loss to the Wizards if he was confident his touch and timing around the rim would eventually return.
“No explosiveness, no lift in my legs,” he said. “It is what it is.”
So I asked if he’d eventually be better than a 35 percent shooter.
“Um, possibly,” he said. “I don’t know at the moment. I can’t really jump or do anything quick without sharp pain. That limits me.”
This isn’t to blame Bynum for all that is wrong with the Cavs’ woeful start. In truth, the choppy immersion of him into the offense is a secondary concern behind the overall lack of consistent ball movement and the ability to make shots.
Part of the reason the Cavs can’t seem to find an offensive identity is because they have two — one when he’s in the game and one when he’s on the bench. If he can eventually raise his shooting percentage anything close to his career average of 56 percent, and if the Cavs can eventually nudge him into the 30-minute range, then absolutely this will all be worth it.
But we’ve yet to see any proof either of those will occur.
Brown doesn’t believe any of this. He has championed Bynum since the signing and has insisted the offensive struggles are a timing issue that will eventually return. I asked Brown prior to Friday’s loss at New Orleans if all of this time and energy invested in Bynum is worth it and he looked offended.
“Hell [expletive] yes,” Brown said as he walked away. Then he stopped, turned again and added, “He’s part of our plan.”
If the Cavaliers’ patience and loyalty are rewarded, they will be very much alive this season while wading through the rubble that is the Eastern Conference. With Derrick Rose’s latest knee injury, there are just two elite teams in the East — Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers — followed by varying degrees of decent, mediocre and awful.
To this point, the Cavs have been closer to awful than mediocre. Bynum could make the difference which way it truly swings, but he’ll have to play considerably more minutes first. Brown hinted Saturday night the Cavs are close to increasing his minutes limit.
The team should be commended for being patient and going slow with him, but the terrible start to this season might soon force them to definitively learn what Bynum has left.
Is it worth it? We’ll soon know. The answer could very well dictate the direction of the season.
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.