By Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal
I was ready for the Cavaliers to gamble on Greg Oden and Bynum seems much less of a health risk than the former No. 1 pick from Ohio State, albeit probably a more costly one.
For too long, the Cavaliers have been doing a lot of planning for the future and not a lot of winning while the fans remain blindly faithful with their wallets as well as their hearts. It was time to quit talking about the summer of 2014 and start acting.
General Manager Chris Grant has been stockpiling draft picks and cap space for what seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream.
It may turn out to be a grand plan with as much foresight as the one former Indians General Manager John Hart masterminded for the opening of Jacobs Field in 1994.
But for the Cavaliers, until Tuesday night it seemed like an interminable scheme that moved as slowly as the construction of Cleveland's Inner Belt Bridge.
It seemed more likely to get Grant fired than to succeed.
The news that former Los Angeles Lakers center Bynum had chosen the Cavs over the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks seemed like a game changer.
It changed the perception that free agents won’t come to Cleveland.
It changed the notion that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert makes extravagant promises about championships he can't deliver. (In the giddy euphoria of the moment, I wonder if Gilbert was tempted to tweet, “Not one, not two, not three...”?)
It was a start toward changing the Cavs’ reputation as a team that can only win the lottery. It gave Northeast Ohioans hope that the Cavs have a chance to end the city’s 49-year title drought.
I wouldn't bet on that at the moment.
They need much more than Bynum, who has one All-Star Game appearance and two NBA championship rings, to go with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett.
Bynum sat out all of last season with the Philadelphia 76ers with what his NBA.com biography called “bilateral bone bruises and a weakened cartilage state in both of his knees.”
He underwent arthroscopic surgery on both on March 19, which falls into the “Only in Cleveland” category of unbelievable sports lore.
Bynum is already the biggest free-agent acquisition in the 43-year history of the Cavs, not just in terms of dollars, but because he could be the key in assembling a title contender.
The 10th overall pick in 2005, Bynum had his best statistical season two years ago under then-Lakers coach Mike Brown, now back with the Cavs. Bynum is just 25, the age to become a cornerstone of a playoff franchise. Listed as 7 feet and 285 pounds, he will give the Cavs the imposing physical presence they lacked, even when Anderson Varejao was playing out of position at center.
Bringing in a player of Bynum's caliber seemed crucial to show the free-agent class of 2014, which includes LeBron James, that the Cavs have a well-thought-out plan.
That plan has to include winning this season, not playing for the No. 1 pick again. (It’s the same reason I can’t chastise them for selecting Bennett in last month’s draft. To start climbing out of the abyss, they needed someone who could play right away, not a rookie who might be rehabbing a college injury for half a season.)
Signing Larry Hughes as a complementary piece for James is one thing.
Persuading a big name like Bynum to come to Cleveland as bait for James is another.
The Hughes experiment seemed like the Cavs were grasping at straws to try to make their superstar happy.
With Bynum, the Cavs are stocking the roster with young, talented players James might want to join.
At the moment, Bynum's knees might not look 25 on an MRI.
But it seems worth the $6 million in guaranteed money they’re giving him to see if another medical miracle along the lines of Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ feet is in the cards.
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