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The Injury Gamble - AKA Andrew Bynum vs. Nerlens Noel

Some risks are bigger than others in NBA big men.


Gamblor (via YouTube)

Andrew Bynum has agreed to a 2-year incentive laden contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If Bynum hits all the benchmarks in the contract he will earn $24 million over the two years. Only $6 million is guaranteed, and the second year is a team option so Cleveland remains in the drivers seat on how it will impact their cap if Bynum can't perform.

All in all it would appear to be a prudent move by the Cavs - at least in limiting their liability. It is rare that former NBA All-Star Centers become available, and if he returns to form it is the STEAL of all the free agents in this off season. Even if he is just passable, but gives hope that he'll really be good in the second year, the Cavs are well positioned. And by all accounts the Cavs intend to make a run at Lebron James in what would be that second year of Bynum's deal.

Where I think things get interesting is how the Cavs drafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. To my knowledge, the Cavs were never in the hunt for Dwight Howard, and their roster is short on centers. They have Anderson Varejao (Brazilian Sideshow Bob) who played in only 25 games last year (averaging a solid 14.1 pts & 14.4 boards) and Tyler Zeller who as a rookie played in 77 games and averaged 7.9 pts. and 5.7 rebounds in 26.4 minutes a game. Beyond that there are a couple of PF's with some potential, but none with the size to play center. Zeller will be a solid role player, but he's not your future if you are a team with high hopes. Varejao is incredibly hard working but is on the downside of his career and as the injury last year showed, his body is trending toward breaking down with serious injuries each of the last 3 seasons.

Nerlens Noel was considered by many to be a lock for the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. He's got the length to be a center in the NBA, and possesses at least the beginnings of the shot blocking ability you desire in the NBA post. Noel is coming off a well chronicled ACL injury of his own, so there is certainly some question as to how much he would be able to contribute early on in the upcoming season. But the truth is, you aren't drafting Nerlens Noel for the upcoming season regardless of the injury.

So with great anticipation, everyone expected David Stern to announce that with the first draft pick of the 2013 NBA Draft that the Cleveland Cavaliers were selecting Nerlens Noel out of Kentucky. But that's not what he said. Instead, Cleveland selected the undersized power forward Anthony Bennett out of UNLV as the #1 pick. Stunned. No one saw this coming (well save for one NBA pundit who undoubtedly had some inside intel).

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But it does seem a bit odd that Noel eventually lands on the Philadelphia 76ers, where Andrew Bynum had previously "played", and Bynum moves to Cleveland who in all reality needed a center but didn't draft one. In this action, the Cavs gamble big on Bynum and moderate on Bennett. I think Bennett will be a solid NBA player, but in the NBA economy centers are at more of a premium. But they gambled bigger (in my view) on the center position, which is without question perplexing to me. And it makes me wonder too a little bit about tampering. I have no basis for suggesting it, but it makes me wonder if Cleveland had already begun to talk to Bynum prior to the NBA draft. From the reports that I've read, Bynum talked with 3 teams including the Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks, but the only team to tender an offer apparently was Cleveland. Hmmm.

The Cavs weren't the only ones gambling here though. As I mentioned, the 76ers eventually landed Noel with a trade of Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans on draft night. This might seem as crazy to some - the trading away of your best player the previous season for an unproven and underweight center coming off of ACL surgery. But that is the NBA economy for big men. Which again makes the moves by the Cavs all the more curious in my eyes. Were they really that down on Noel? Apparently so. As were (it would appear) a handful of other teams with Noel falling all the way to the #6 draft slot.

It has certainly been a strange off season.

The one other big man of interest, and one who is not a gamble in my eyes, is Omer Asik. The whole world knows that Dwight Howard landed with the Houston Rockets. And then Omer Asik expressed that he'd like to be moved because he does not want to play behind Howard. Last year was Asik's coming out party where in 30 minutes a game he averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds - far greater totals than any previous season in his career. Asik is a legit center - big body, rebounds well, solid defender, and manages the pick and roll moderately well. He allows room for James Harden to work, so he's a really nice complimentary piece in Houston. The Rockets (thus far) have rejected his bid to be moved. And while I'd love to see him pair up with Howard in Houston (I think a better match than Pau Gasol was with Howard on the Los Angeles Lakers), I suspect there is still something in the works. I think if you can move Jeremy Lin and Asik as a package you could get something really nice in return as the nearly $17 million in salary they represent gives you a lot of options. Would you move Lin & Asik & a bag of cash for Chris Bosh & Norris Cole? Bosh isn't really a center in my opinion. The Rockets drafted a PG early in the second round in Isaiah Canaan, and Harden can handle the ball adeptly when needed, and they also already have Patrick Beverley had a very nice playoff run. And that is just one idea.

If it was your money and roster, who/where would you gamble on an NBA big this off season?