Why? Because the guy making the decision is Larry Bird. And I think we can all agree that, over the time he has been in a decision-making role with the Pacers, Larry Bird knows more about basketball and basketball players than likely any other living person. Quite possible any other dead person, too.
Andrew Bynum has been called a lot of things. “Winner” and “good teammate” usually not among them. Here is what Google popped up as helpful suggestions when I typed in “Andrew Bynum is”
-Back (obviously because of the Pacers signing, but that doesn’t really illuminate things.)
-a Punk (ah, here we go.)
Those don’t seem to add up to being what we would commonly consider a championship player. And, well, he’s got the track record to back up such search terms. Remember when he tried his damnedest to knock JJ Barea into next week and then decided the best course of action was to rip his jersey off? Or when he spent an entire year in Philadelphia only being notable for his hair, because he didn’t play a single game? Or how he was just more or less kicked out of Cleveland for being “a cancer?”* He’s really had nothing but criticism since he’s come into the league. I certainly haven’t watched him enough to know for myself, but I do know that where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. This is a tight locker room with about the best chemistry I’ve seen from a team in any sport. I truly don’t understand why you would do anything that might mess with that when you came so damn close to a championship last year. You already vastly upgraded the bench, which was the glaring failure last year. You have the best record in basketball. Why keep throwing ingredients into an already kick ass soup?
*There are many who say that Cleveland is a terrible mess anyway and that Bynum was just the easy scapegoat for the problems. Reports of his terribleness, in Cleveland, anyway, are overblown. Maybe, I say, but there’s a reason he was an easy target.
So, no, I would not have made the move. But I am also not Larry Bird. There has been very little he has touched, in a basketball sense, that has not turned to gold. A lot of people thought Roy Hibbert was not nearly athletic enough to make it in the NBA. He has become THE premier center in the league now, was robbed of last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, and will almost certainly win it this year. Along with being a two time All Star. When the Pacers picked tenth in what looked to be a weak draft, many (including myself) were desperate for the Pacers to trade the pick because there was nobody in that draft who could really help the Pacers make that next jump up. Instead, Larry Bird used that pick on (then) little known Paul George. That’s turned out all right. Bringing in Lance Stephenson was quite the risk, and he especially looked like a bust and an off-court problem when he got to Indianapolis. This year, he’s probably the biggest All Star snub.* There are some other moves that weren’t nearly so controversial, but both have paid off in spades: bringing in hometown hero George Hill** and certified badass David West.
*Unless you think it’s Anthony Davis, which there is an argument for. But Lance is doing his thing with the best team in basketball where there are options everywhere. Davis, well, isn’t.
**George Hill takes some slack for not being a great point guard. And, for most teams, he probably wouldn’t. But when put in a combo with Lance Stephenson (along with Paul George) he becomes very effective, and he absolutely fits in with the defensive scheme of the Pacers, which is where they butter their bread. He’s a bit unsung, maybe, but don’t doubt for a second that is the right fit for this team.
He was also questioned for years when the Pacers toiled at the bottom of the league following the brawl. Bird would just simply answer: be patient. We have a plan. We’re sticking to it. Things are going to pan out. Just give it a few years. Then, right on schedule, the Pacers snuck into the playoffs as an eight seed. They turned in the hardest fought five game series you will ever see. The next year, the Pacers jumped up to a three seed and gave Miami a much tougher than (nationally) expected series. Last year, well, different round, same script. Except for maybe the expectations. Folks knew the Pacers had the ability to beat the Heat last year. Point is, Larry Bird has proven over and over again he knows what he’s doing with this team.
Do I like it? No, but Larry Bird has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. If he says that this signing is what’s going to help the Pacers get over the hump that is the Miami Heat, then I’m on board. I might give a little side eye, but I’m going along with it. Welcome to Indiana, Mr. Bynum. Don’t mess this up for us.