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Bynum’s future in the NBA may be a short-term proposition

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Andrew Bynum (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

On Thursday afternoon, a contrite Andrew Bynum stated that he is ‘A shell’ of the player that he once was during his seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

There’s really nothing about that statement that’s not true with regards to the Cavaliers’ new center.

We all know Bynum’s story through-and-through as the Cavaliers head to an interesting home-and-home match-up in Philadelphia against the 3-2 76ers.

This is the same Philadelphia franchise that acquired Bynum in a four-team deal that saw Andre Iquadala head off to Denver, and Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a future first round pick head off to Orlando. The deal was, of course, much bigger, and when it was all said and done, 11 players (including Earl Clark) and five draft picks were exchanged between the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic, the Denver Nuggets and, of course, the 76ers.

Bynum never played a game for the Sixers.

The Philadelphia fans, notorious for their love/hate relationship with the healthiest of stars, shredded the mercurial Bynum, and for pretty good reason, when he milked the team for a whole lotta money to do a whole lotta nothing. This was expanded ten-fold when Bynum reinjured his knee bowling, and that was only one of the may setbacks that he faced during the now infamous 2012-2013 season.

Now he’s heading back to Philly, and expected to play for the Cavs in their first meeting of the season on Friday night.

It’s not going to be pretty.

That’s not really the big story though.

The 26-year-old Cavalier spoke on Wednesday of the frustration that he felt with regards to his rehabilitation, and the fact that he is extremely limited in what he can do on the court, as compared to the 24-year old version of himself that made it to the NBA All-Star game in 2012.

Bynum has been a surprising contributor with the Cleveland Cavaliers early this season, including a game in which he scored ten points, and blocked three shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He’s only averaging 13 minutes, 5 1/2 points and 4 rebounds during the early part of the season, which should be regarded as a triumph for the big man, especially considering the fact that he hadn’t played a basketball game in nearly 600 days, and many thought it was possible he wouldn’t play in any games any time soon.

In his discussion with the media today, however, his focus wasn’t on his surprising return and positive results, but on the fact that he’s struggling with the player that he’s become.

Bynum talked about retirement, and sent a bit of an alarming message to those that follow the Cavaliers closely.

“Retirement was a thought, it was a serious thought. It still is…every now and again I do (think about retirement)…It’s still career threatening. I’m a shell of myself on the court right now. I’m just struggling mentally.”

Retirement is a reality for Bynum, and if you know the type of person that he has been in his career, seeing him hang it up wouldn’t be a surprise.

That certainly isn’t a knock on Bynum, who by all indications, is playing with severe knee pain on a daily basis that will likely be with him for the rest of his playing days.

Severe knee pain after several knee surgeries.

It puts a new perspective on this contract for Bynum, who likely knew enough about his knees to know that perhaps he only had a year or two left…tops, as opposed to those that thought he was looking for a springboard contract into something long-term at the end of the two-years. The fact that he’s considering retirement now also is a decent indicator that this wasn’t just a money grab.

In his years with the Lakers, Andrew Bynum was an explosive big man, and one could argue, was a top-two center when he was traded in that massive deal.

He’s never likely going to be that player again.

Instead, he’s can move side-to-side very well. He has no vertical game. He’s essentially a very skilled, sedentary player.

He can overpower because of his size. He can muscle in baskets because of his size. He can rebound because of his size. He also has a fairly soft touch from the outside as well.

He just can’t move very well, and on top of that, has chronic knee pain.

He’ll likely never play back-to-back games with the Cavs this season, and he’ll likely miss more games than that as the year progresses.

But the Cavaliers are okay with that.

They need a presence to go along with Anderson Varejao, who’s also an injury risk, and there’s always the potential that Bynum could regain some of his former glory.

Bynum acknowledged that he would never be the player that he once was, and it all comes down to whether or not he can deal with knowing that he will never be an all-star caliber player again on a consistent basis, as well as all that pain that he’ll have to deal with thanks to his fragile knees.

My hope is that Bynum can reconcile the fact that he’s not the best-of-the-best anymore, and can become one of those role players that every team needs. He still possesses the ability to clog up the lane in a fashion that few centers can right now in basketball. He lengthens this line-up, and clearly makes the team better when he’s on the court.

There’s also a slim chance that he can continue to progress a bit as the season continues, and some of that explosiveness could really help the Cavs turn the corner on being a middling team, or a playoff team.

Of course, the Cavs won’t have a lot of say in it when it’s all said and done.

They don’t have to feel the pain Bynum does every day when he wakes up in the morning.

They don’t have to deal with comparing 10 points and three blocks in one game, to averaging nearly 19 points, with 12 boards and two blocks a game for an entire season.

That’s the basketball life that Andrew Bynum will likely have to face during his time here with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Andrew Bynum is a lot of things. He’s been immature, and he’s been outspoken and he’s been trouble. He had issues with his teammates and coaches in Los Angeles, which also made him extremely tradeable, even though he was arguably as good as the player he was being dealt for.

The two words that come to mind with regards to Bynum in Los Angeles were enigmatic, and indifferent. He didn’t seem to let outside forces bother him all that much. That sounds like a positive, but in reality, it was tough to figure out what he really cared about at all.

He was also injured…a lot.

Now, Bynum clearly is showcasing a realization that things are no longer going to come easily for him, and it is kind of refreshing to see that he values the type of player that he was, and the type of player that he can be.

He is clearly humbled by his experiences over the last two years, and that will all come to a head in Philadelphia on Friday night.

It will be an interesting snapshop in the 2013-2014 Cleveland Cavaliers photobook.

What will be more interesting though is if Andrew Bynum can reconcile with the fact that he’s no longer an elite NBA player.

If he can, there will be plenty of snapshots in the future that involve #21.

If he can’t, his career in Cleveland could be over before it really had a chance to begin.

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