by Kent Sterling
Andrew Bynum needs to rehab his image. The Indiana Pacers need a backup center who can be an offensive force and protect the rim. His signing Saturday looks like a potential marriage made in basketball heaven.
There is a school of thought that a team with a 37-10 record has earned a chance to compete for an NBA Championship as currently constructed. Backup center Ian Mahinmi has worked hard, and as long as the Pacers win, why rock the boat?
Stupid comes in a lot of forms, but trusting a roster to win a championship when the opportunity to improve it sails right on by might be dumb management in its most profound form.
Whether you like Bynum or not, and if you are a basketball fan in Indiana I’m going to assume you don’t know Bynum well enough to judge, the guy has two rings from the Lakers 2009 and 2010 NBA Championship teams, and was an all-star two years ago.
He’s only 26 years old, and averaged between 14.7 and 19.1 points and 9.5 and 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes during the past six seasons in which he has played.
Bynum is not just a good player; he’s an elite player on both ends of the floor being brought in to back up another young all-star center. If he plays with passion and buys into the Pacers team-first culture, the Pacers will jump from being a co-favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals to being prohibitive favorites to win the whole thing.
When team president Larry Bird spoke to the media Saturday, he said that Bynum will get a fresh start with the Pacers, and that he would prefer to judge Bynum for himself rather than take the word of others as he evaluates whether he can fit into the Pacers tight knit locker room.
One of the hallmarks of an effective manager is to judge the quality of employees for yourself, and another is to not concern yourself with what others think of you. Bird is exceptional in both areas. He’s not arrogant, but he knows that he will only be able to help the Pacers by being as smart as he can be, not be listening to what knuckleheads outside Bankers Life Fieldhouse believes.
He did the same thing with Lance Stephenson, and was excoriated by the media. Anyone want to turn the clock back three years to listen to the rabble (including me) bitch and moan about bringing in a “bad guy” who was going to ruin the team? I don’t either.
Bad managers listen to the media, and rest on their laurels. Bird does neither.
With all playing at or near their potential, a second unit of Bynum, former all-star Danny Granger, Luis Scola, and C.J. Watson with one of the current starters would be a playoff group in the Eastern Conference.
The proof will be in the pudding, and whatever the result is at the end of the season, no one is going to wonder whether Bird did everything he could to win a championship here. The additions of Scola and Watson were inspired, and Chris Copeland is still a strong offensive player whose talents have gone unneeded through the first 47 games.
The Pacers are built to survive an injury or two, and thrive when healthy. The only risk in adding Bynum is that Mahinmi’s enthusiasm will drift as his minutes shrink, and that’s not a big enough concern to counter the good that Bynum can bring to the second half of what so far has been a special season.
Since 2009-2010, the Pacers win totals have climbed from 32 to 37 to 42 to last season’s 49 as they have continued to find ways to improve. At 37-10, they only need to go 24-11 the rest of the way to tie their all-time best 61 wins.
Bynum has the opportunity to be a big piece of the puzzle that tops that record and goes into the playoffs assured of playing the last game of every series in Indianapolis.