The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Andrew Bynum to a two-year, $24-million deal on Wednesday, with just $6 million guaranteed. It gets them above the salary floor and has no implication long term if it doesn't work out for them.
Let's pretend for a minute that this thing is going to work, that the Cavaliers aren't just throwing $6 million into a fiery hole. We need to make three assumptions before we get started.
1. Andrew Bynum is going to be healthy for the first time in a year-and-a-half. Healthy enough to play, healthy enough to start, healthy enough to play 30 minutes a game for 75 games. I know, I know, but we're playing hypotheticals here.
2. Andrew Bynum is going to try. Really hard. The incentive structure that will double his pay (and quadruple it over two years) will light the fire under him that has been missing. He will be engaged, coachable, play within himself, not put anyone in the hospital, and respect his coach, Mike Brown, unlike the way he treated his former coach, Mike Brown. Wait. No, stop, remember, hypothetical. Play along.
3. Andrew Bynum is going to get along with everyone in the locker room, and everyone is going to get along with him.
OK, now that we've built this theoretical universe, how does it look?
Here's what I saw with the Cavs last year: a constantly banged up Kyrie Irving who wasn't able to be as dominant as he was initially due to repetitive freak injuries; Anderson Varejao having what always happens to him, a series of unfortunate events, happen to him; Tristan Thompson making great strides at both the power forward and center position in small-ball lineups; Dion Waiters showing that if he learns to work off-ball, he can be great ... and Alonzo Gee dunked some. That was cool.
So with this Mega-Bynum we're envisioning, you are now pursuing straight-up the objective of immediate improvement. You don't want to get a little better. You want to get a lot better. You want to skip a few steps in the rebuilding process. You've got more than $10 million next season due to Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum. You had better go get your money's worth.
Let's start with a conceptual starting lineup of:
G Kyrie Irving
G Dion Waiters
F Sergey Karasev/Alonzo Gee
F Anderson Varejao
C Andrew Bynum
So you've got playmaking, hot-shooting point guard looking to make a statement, developing slasher/gunner, big, athletic shooter wing, rebound machine and hustle junkie, and one of the most sigularly dominant centers in the league (again, when engaged, this is what Bynum looks like; you're just going to have to follow me down the rabbit hole here).
Varejao and Bynum, together, is a pretty lethal combination of pure size and aggression. Varejao is somehow monstrously strong and incredibly savvy, Bynum is somehow incredibly skilled and unbelievably monstrous, physically. That's a great pair to set up down low.
Irving can run the pick and roll with Varejao, and feed Bynum in the post, with a shooter in the corner (Waiters) Irving on the wing, and a floor-stretching shooter in the opposite corner. If Bynum shoots and misses, Varejao is there for the cleanup.
This, as your core concept, puts you at probably 45 to 48 wins and a playoff berth. Possibly a five-seed in the East. That would be pretty phenomenal growth for the Cavs.
Now you throw in Jarrett Jack, who you should believe will be on the floor late in games, with some sort of Irving-Jack-Waiters-Varejao-Bynum combination. It gives you even more options.
(I personally tend to lean toward just starting Jack in the two-guard lineup and either moving Waiters to the three and trusting that the lack of small forwards with post games allows him to stay there defensively. But I'm willing to stick with Jack as sixth man. He'll be finishing games, though.)
The development of the young guys come into question, but Thompson's athleticism and length as a compliment to Bynum becomes very interesting, while Anthony Bennett can be used in pick-and-pop situations with Irving, and when the weak side defender is drawn to help, Bynum explodes over the top for the putback jam.
This will work. If those three things above are true, if Cleveland gets the best Bynum it can, the Cavaliers can jump into the playoff race and make some noise. They'll have a unique combination of elite point guard, elite center, and dynamic role players that most teams are struggling to find.
If they can get the Bynum they want to pay for, and not the Bynum they would just have to pay for, then signing Andrew Bynum can really work out for the Cavs.