BOSTON: The origins of Andrew Bynum’s suspension — and eventually his departure from the Cavaliers — can be traced all the way back to last season, when he was still a member of the Philadelphia 76ers and Mike Brown was living in Los Angeles.
While Byron Scott was coach of the Cavaliers, various figures within the organization didn’t think he did a good enough job of holding players accountable. When the team looked terrible in a late-season loss at Philadelphia, Scott yanked all of his starters except Kyrie Irving.
That was a defining moment that infuriated the upper levels of the organization, which believed it sent the wrong message to Irving and ultimately the rest of the team. Scott was fired the day after the season ended and Brown was rehired, in large part with the belief he would do a better job of holding all players accountable to the same standard.
Brown has ripped Irving on the bench during games, he has been harder on him privately than Scott was, according to team sources, and he has indeed set a standard the players are expected to meet.
That brings us to Saturday’s suspension of Bynum. Something happened during practice Friday, which one source referred to as the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” but wouldn’t divulge what exactly happened because it was simply a continuation of a behavioral pattern that had been ongoing for weeks. Had it been an isolated incident, no one would’ve said or done anything.
Brown, ironically, had been Bynum’s loudest supporter. Bynum admitted in early November he was still considering retirement, he still had sharp pains in his knees when he ran and he was discouraged by the deterioration in his game. He had lost his joy for basketball, he said, and wasn’t sure if he would get it back.
Brown, at least publicly, ignored the rhetoric and insisted Bynum could return to an All-Star level. When asked in late November, when Bynum was shooting 35 percent and struggling to fit in, if all of this was worth it, Brown snapped, “Hell [expletive] yes,” then walked away, turning only to add, “he’s part of our plan.”
No more excuses
As Bynum struggled much of the season, Brown said his young players had never played with a post presence like him and simply didn’t know how to use him effectively or how to get him the ball properly in the post. But Brown subtly shifted the focus in recent days away from the rest of the players and onto Bynum, particularly after he missed all 11 of his shots in a bad loss to the Pistons last week.
“Bynum has been up and down,” Brown said. “Sometimes his down has been because we can’t get him the ball. But we have ways now we’ve figured out to get him the ball, now it’s a matter of him producing.”
But he couldn’t, at least not consistently. He departs averaging 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 42 percent — a fraction of his final healthy season with the Lakers when he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and shot 56 percent.
The Cavs were the only team to offer Bynum the opportunity for a big payday last summer, which left the obvious question of how badly did he want to be here or if he was just chasing the check. The Cavs’ dreadful start to the season, after Bynum was accustomed to winning titles with the Lakers, didn’t help matters.
Bynum is incredibly intelligent and has always been viewed as an introvert, even dating back to his Los Angeles days. He kept to himself with the Cavs, typically spent pregames alone with his headphones on and rarely interacted with teammates.
“That’s how people are sometimes,” said Jarrett Jack, who was part of Bynum’s draft class and said his mother is friendly with Bynum’s mother. “Some people like to march to the beat of their own drum. Not saying that’s a bad thing. That’s just how you are as an individual. We had a pretty good relationship with him. He wasn’t somebody who was reluctant to speak to people.”
Yet other players privately insisted Saturday that while Bynum was always quiet, he was even more withdrawn in recent weeks. One Cavs player said he wasn’t surprised with Saturday’s outcome.
“It has to be hard for him,” he said. “To go from being an All-Star to what he is now, that has to be hard to handle.”
“What he is now,” is a veteran with two bad knees, $73 million in NBA checks, two championship rings, an All-Star appearance and a current employer that is finally conceding he doesn’t seem to want to play anymore.
When Bynum said, “It’s tough to enjoy the game because of how limited I am physically,” in early November, and admitted he still considered retirement, the Cavs initially tried downplaying his remarks, insisting Zydrunas Ilgauskas said similar things when he was returning from a series of foot surgeries that nearly wrecked his career. Now they’ve stopped defending him.
The Cavs have been protective of their “culture” since beginning this rebuild. One of the concerns with the trade that ultimately allowed them to draft Irving a few years ago was that it also brought Baron Davis, who had a league-wide reputation as a locker room cancer and coach killer.
From all accounts, Davis was the model teammate in Cleveland, but the Cavs weren’t about to take any chances of him infecting a rookie like Irving. Davis was quickly waived under the amnesty provision when the Cavs first had the opportunity to do so.
Bynum’s attitude has eroded in recent weeks, team sources said, and the Cavs didn’t want it infecting the rest of the team if he wasn’t fully committed mentally. The Cavs have dealt with enough other problems already this season, beginning with a controversial team meeting early in the season and continuing rumors that Dion Waiters wants out or could be traded. The Bynum issue was a problem they couldn’t risk continuing.
They knew there was risk involved when they signed him — which is why they were the only team to aggressively pursue him — and now they’re moving on without him.
Bynum signed a partially guaranteed contract last summer that only guarantees him about $6 million of the total $12 million this season. If the Cavs can trade or release him prior to Jan. 7, when all contracts become guaranteed, a team that traded for him could waive him and save about $6 million on their cap (the difference between the guaranteed amount and the total cap figure). If the Cavs simply release him, they’ll have about $6 million in cap savings.
In what would ultimately be his final game with the Cavs on Thursday, Bynum was in General Manager Chris Grant’s office inside Quicken Loans Arena while the rest of the players stretched and huddled in the hallway, then ran onto the court for pregame introductions.
Bynum stormed out of the office a few minutes before tip-off and walked across the hallway into the weight room before eventually making it onto the court. Then Brown yanked him early in the third quarter because he was ineffective rebounding and couldn’t defend Al Horford.
Bynum walked off the court for the final time, quickly showered after the game and left the locker room before reporters were allowed in. Now his time with the Cavaliers is almost certainly over. Given the lack of interest in him around the league last summer, coupled with his own admittance he doesn’t enjoy the game anymore, his career could be finished, too.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.