There’s a story I remember from my childhood. It involves a man who is living in his house on the bank of a river. One day, a storm begins to build up strength and the rains begin to pour down. The newscaster on TV interrupts programming to warn those living on the river to evacuate because of the risk of flood. The man thought to himself, “God will surely deliver me from this flood.”
The rain continued to pour down and the water began to rise. The man had to move to his 2nd floor balcony as the first floor was now completely submerged. A neighbor who happened to have a boat was driving through the area looking for people who were stranded. He saw the man on his balcony and brought the boat over to offer him help escaping. “Thank you, but I don’t need your help,” said the man. “God will surely deliver me from this flood.”
The rain continued to fall and the water continued to rise. By now, the man had moved to his roof as the water had overtaken the 2nd floor of his house. A rescue helicopter was flying over the houses looking for people to rescue. Seeing the man on his roof, the helicopter sent a rescue diver down to get the man. “Thank you for offering, but I don’t need your help,” the man told the diver. “God will surely deliver me from this flood.”
The rain was relentless still, and the water eventually overtook the man’s house completely. To his last breath the man held out hope that God would save him, but the flood water was too much and the man eventually succumbed to the water and died. Upon arriving in heaven, the man saw God and asked him, “God, I had faith that you would save me, but still you let me drown. Why?”
God looked curiously at the man and said, “My child, three times I tried to save you. Once with a warning on the news giving you ample time to escape, once I sent a boat to save you, and once I sent a helicopter to rescue you, but all 3 times you refused my help.”
I always liked that story. It taught me to be careful to not refuse the blessings that come my way in life. By now you may be wondering what this has to do with sports. Well, I think this story might apply to the Cleveland Cavaliers right now.
We can debate until we’re blue in the face as to all the reasons why LeBron James left Cleveland. But I’d like to think we can at least agree that part of the problem was that LeBron never had a real running mate. The Cavaliers were a great team and I believe they were good enough to win a title. But there’s no doubt LeBron shouldered the load alone.
So this time around, with Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers want to rebuild the “right way”. We want the team to stockpile cap space and draft picks so we can eventually get Kyrie the young superstar to pair up with.
What if that moment is now, though. What if Andrew Bynum is the answer to the riddle? I feel like some fans are saying “We don’t want to use our assets to acquire Bynum, we want to save them so we can get a superstar.” It’s like the man in the story refusing rescue because he’s waiting for God to rescue him.
We want to surround Kyrie Irving with other young superstars. Well, Andrew Bynum is a 24 year old superstar. He is a player who has but one peer at his position, and that’s Dwight Howard. The Cavaliers have an opportunity to potentially have a top 5 PG paired with the 2nd best center in the NBA. I’m not sure what more you can ask for as a starting point to rebuilding your team into a title contender.
Lets be real clear about this. If the Cavaliers don’t trade for Bynum, the odds of them later getting a player as good as Bynum or better are extremely slim. Guys this good are not easy to get. Last season Andrew Bynum was 10th in the NBA in efficiency rating, 20th in scoring, 4th in FG%, 3rd in rebounds, 6th in blocks, and 5th in double-doubles. This is an absolute legit, star, elite center.
I get the questions about his health and his maturity. After playing 82 games in the 2006-07 season, Bynum was never healthy until this past season. He followed that 82 game season up with seasons of 35, 50, 65, and 54 games. So yes, injuries are a part of his past. But injuries are part of Kyrie Irving’s past, too.
Kyrie played just 11 of Duke’s 37 games two years ago and 51 of the Cavaliers’ 66 games last year. So in total, in his team’s last 2 seasons, Kyrie has played in 62 of 103 games (60%). Over Bynum’s last two years, he has played in 114 of his team’s 148 games (77%). I don’t think anyone would say they don’t want Kyrie because of injury concerns. Bynum’s recent history shows us he has been mostly healthy and I don’t think injury concerns is a good reason to not go out and get him.
This biggest problem is Bynum’s impending free agency. There’s been a lot of suggestion that the Cavaliers either need or should need an extension from Bynum before they do the trade. I can tell you this much, if a signed contract extension is what the Cavaliers need, we’re all wasting our time here. Bynum is not, and should not, sign a contract extension right now. Why? Because of the way the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement works.
A contract extension is not the same thing as re-signing with your old team as a free agent with Bird Rights. Basically, if either Howard or Bynum were to sign an extension now, they would be limited in the number of years and max raise they can get.
For a better explanation than I could give, lets turn to Sporting News’s Sean Devery who wrote about this last year when Deron Williams was offered an extension by the Nets:
“Deron will not be signing the extension,” Schwartz told the Bergen Record on Thursday. “Based on the new rules it doesn’t make any sense for him to sign the extension. It has nothing to do with how much he likes New Jersey. Because of the rules, he’s going to play the season out and opt out of his deal.”
Now, get your calculators out. Williams is signed through this season, and has a $17.7 million player option next season. If he were to sign an extension with the Nets now, the option for next year would be active, and Williams could add two more years onto his deal with 7.5 percent raises, bringing the total deal to three years, $57 million.
If Williams opts out, though, he could draw a contract worth $100 million over five years by re-signing with the Nets, or $74 million over four years by going elsewhere. In the short term, Williams would actually lose a relatively small amount money by opting out, because the five-year deal would start at $17.4 million (30 percent of the salary cap) rather than the $17.7 million he would make by opting in—it’s a matter of $56.1 million in the first three years instead of $57 million. But, at 27 years old, the security of a five-year max deal is more important to Williams now.
This is why Bynum and Howard won’t sign extensions either. The same situation more or less applies to them. It’s in their own best interests to become free agents and allow their Bird Rights to kick in, maximizing both years and annual raises. So if a signed guarantee is what you need, you’re not going to get it.
But that shouldn’t necessarily stop the Cavaliers from pursuing this trade. Once a framework is agreed upon, the Lakers will allow Chris Grant to talk to Andrew Bynum and his agent. At that point, you try to get a feeler on the situation. Is Bynum open minded to staying in Cleveland long term? Will his agent give Cleveland assurances that if Bynum gels with Kyrie and Coach Byron Scott, that he’ll stay?
That’s the question. I’m optimistic Bynum would stay. The Cavaliers could offer him a better long term running mate than, say, Dallas or Houston could. Cleveland would have his Bird Rights and could offer him more money and years. Cleveland could offer Bynum an opportunity to be either the 1st or 2nd option in the offense. Irving and Bynum, if they can get along, can form a formidable tandem that could be title contenders for years to come if the supporting pieces fall into place in future years. And you know Dan Gilbert is going to be committed to that cause.
No, it’s not a sure thing Bynum would come back. There’s risk. It’s a gamble. I get that. But do we want to live our lives just hoping to eventually have another star fall into our laps? Or do we want to be aggressive and take advantage of this incredible opportunity that is sitting right in front of us?
If the Cavaliers don’t do this deal, I’m fine with that. I think the long term building plan is fine and has a decent enough chance of working. It’s just that my personal preference would be to go out and do this. Make our own luck. I think this is the Cavaliers’ one chance to acquire a sure fire young superstar to pair with Irving. Sure, it might happen later. But I don’t want to be stuck watching the boats and helicopters go by as we slowly drown.
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