HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Andrew Bynum is well aware of his skeptics … those who don’t believe that his work ethic can match his physical tools and the crowd that believes we might have seen the best of him already.
We are going to serve as his motivation this season in Cleveland, which is exactly what I wanted to hear from the Cavaliers’ big man during his introductory news conference this morning.
Shut me up. Shut us all up, big fella. And show us that we are wrong about you.
Show us that you are indeed the All-Star you claim to be. Show us that you are one of the top big men in basketball. Because showing us is the only way you will convert the masses.
The Cavaliers have provided the platform. General manager Chris Grant was by his side, clearing the path for Bynum to speak his peace and then get ready to work (bright and early Monday, according to Bynum). Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who is familiar with Bynum from their season together with the Los Angeles Lakers, will be there to do whatever it takes to help Bynum succeed.
But in the end, if Bynum plans to return to form this season, the onus is on him … fragile knees and all, his critics be damned.
“I feel like for me getting my career back on track and really playing a full year is my only goal with this season,” Bynum said about his goals for the 2013-14 season. “I really feel like I can accomplish it. Work ethic-wise, I come in every day and I work hard. I don’t really — I feel like it’s a little bit unfair at times, but that’s just something that comes with the territory. Obviously, you take that and use it as motivation to come out and prove everybody wrong.”
Bynum insists the scathing reviews of his work ethic have been off base at best and totally unfair.
“Completely,” he said. “I worked really hard to get where I am, and I continue to work hard. I’ve had injuries in the past, and there is a lot to be said for people who think that way. But I think if you get to know me and you look at how hard I have worked to get where I am now, that that’s kind of nonsense.”
This player, who boasts franchise-big man talent, just signed a two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million (only $6 million is guaranteed) provided he delivers on all of the hype he talked up this morning. And he very well could return to form. He could be the dominant force he was during his last healthy season, in 2011-12, when he averaged 18.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.9 bpg en route to his first All-Star nod.
That Bynum, alongside a healthy Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, Tyler Zeller and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, among others, is a solid start. That could be the nucleus of a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
“This is definitely a playoff team,” Bynum insisted. “We have new talent. We have Jarrett Jack, we have Earl Clark who had a phenomenal year last year. I can’t wait to play with Anderson, honestly. I haven’t played with — he brings a kind of energy and passion to the game that I really haven’t been around. Obviously, I played with Kobe [Bryant], but just from a guy who is willing to sacrifice everything for the team, I think that goes leaps and bounds inside the locker room. So I’m really excited about this roster. We definitely have the opportunity to go.”
But for those of us finding it hard to shake the images of Bynum on the bench all last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, the doubt remains. He’s 305 pounds right now, way over his usual playing weight of 280. And we haven’t seen how his knees will respond to his latest round of procedures, rest and rehabilitation.
Bynum said he was in shape and ready to go last season, only to have those recurring knee issues torpedo his season and the Sixers’ plans to build a contender around him. Bynum claims he was as shocked as anyone at the way things played out in Philly.
“Yes, I was completely surprised. I had every intention of playing and I showed up,” he said. “I was ready. I was down in playing weight, I was in shape. It’s just an unfortunate situation that it didn’t work out for me there. Again, going forward here, we have a great plan. I’m going to stick to it, and will I be ready. I have been doing a bunch of non-weight bearing exercises just to protect my knees,” he said. “Going forward, we’re going to do some final screening and really strengthen my body so that I’m able to play. That’s something that’s going to be new for me this year coming here. I haven’t really had that in the past, and this organization has really laid it out for me to succeed.”
The Cavaliers have all of the pieces in place. It’s up to Bynum to show the basketball world that he has moved on from all that has gone down in recent seasons.
He’s saying all the right things. He swears he used his lost 2012-13 season to observe the game from a different perspective, to see where he is needed and how he can best benefit his new teammates and franchise.
“I can bring leadership, I can bring experience, and myself and the young team around me, we’re in an interesting opportunity to all rise together and really do something special.” Bynum said. “We have the talent, and now all it’s going to take is the work. I think everybody with the team, especially myself, we’re ready to put that in. Going forward, I want to get back to the All-Star level. I want to just work extremely hard and get this team into the playoffs and really make some noise. I think the Cleveland fans deserve that.”
Talking the talk is one thing.
Walking it is another.
Shut me up this season, big fella. Shut us all up!