Andrew Bynum claims he will play Friday night when his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, play his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Bynum was hardly a fan favorite last season when he came to town with great expectations and fanfare, and left having never played a game because of two bad knees.
“I got bad news with diagnosis on my knees, but I tried to get back endlessly,” Bynum said Thursday after the Cavaliers practiced at Temple University. “And the frustrating part was getting almost there and then to keep having setbacks.
“It is still career threatening. I am a shell of myself on the court right now. I am struggling mentally, but I am trying.”
Bynum tried last season, but things just never panned out for him in a Sixers uniform. Not that the big man is too upset about letting down the Philadelphia fans.
"I honestly don't really care," Bynum said. "I don't know how they will treat me. I was hurt. It is what it is, and I'm still hurt. But I'm still trying."
Bynum has played 51 minutes over four games for the Cavs so far this season and is averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Those statistics pale in comparison to his 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds he averaged when he was named an All-Star two seasons ago.
“In the moment it is tough to enjoy the game because of where I am but I am struggling to work through that,” Bynum said. “I feel like I can still be effective in this league but I am going to have to make changes to my game and it is about accepting those challenges.”
“As an organization we don’t want to rush it,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We don’t have any expectations of him right now except for him to keep working and that is what he has been doing.”
Zero expectations: The exact opposite of what Bynum experienced when he joined the Sixers franchise. Keep in mind that the Sixers traded All-Star Andre Iguodala, second-year player Nik Vucevic (who had 30 points and 21 rebounds on Wednesday night against the Clippers), rookie Maurice Harkless and a future first-round pick.
Cleveland signed Bynum as a free agent and guaranteed him $6 million of a possible $16 million over two years.
One team put all their chips in and lost. The other gambled just a little.
Instead of being a centerpiece in Cleveland, Bynum is just another guy trying to play the backup center role.
“It’s been good,” Bynum said of his limited minutes. “Andy [Varejao] has been playing great, which is a great help to me and has allowed me to sit back and accept that role-playing responsibility in the moment. We all know if things were going bad there it would be painful, but I am happy he is playing well and I am going to keep trying to play.”
Varejao is averaging 10.2 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes a night as the Cavs' starting center, leaving Bynum to to play between 15 and 19 minutes per game.
If Bynum can work through his mental struggles and accept the physical skills he is left with, Brown thinks his future can still be bright.
“You take a player like Zydrunas Ilgauskas who had terrible feet problems, and he was able to play after multiple surgeries and sitting out for awhile,” Brown said of the former Cavaliers center. “He was able to do that because he was skilled. He was not as big as Andrew but he was long.”
Ilgauskas played five games in the 1998-99 season. The following year, he did not play a game and in the 2000-01 season he played just 24 games.
His career seemed destined for what has become of Greg Oden, but instead Ilgauskas returned to play 734 games over 10 seasons as an effective scorer and rebounder.
“Ilgaukas was long, skilled and intelligent, and with that you are going to have a chance to play many years even if a guy like Andrew doesn’t get his explosiveness back,” Brown said. “Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But he is working hard to be the player he was before.”