INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Just minutes after signing with Cleveland, Andrew Bynum proclaimed the Cavaliers to be a playoff team.
Whether his ailing knees allow him to be the starting center remains to be seen.
“Getting my career on track is my only goal for the season,” Bynum said Friday at his introductory press conference Friday. “The Cavs have given me every opportunity to succeed, and we’ve put together a plan. I really believe in the doctors here and the training staff.
“I want to play a full season, and there is no doubt in my mind I can do that. I’m going to be ready for training camp, that’s the plan.”
Bynum signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Cavaliers, officially ending his star-crossed stay with the Philadelphia 76ers. The 7-footer missed all of last season with knee problems after being acquired from the Lakers in a four-team trade.
Though Bynum underwent bilateral arthroscopic surgery on both knees in March and has not been medically cleared to run, Cleveland general manager Chris Grant made him the team’s top priority in free agency. The 25-year-old also was courted by the Mavericks and Hawks.
“We’re all aware of what his injuries have been,” Grant said. “He’s also well aware of that and has taken ownership of the process. Andrew is in a different place right now and he’s excited to move forward. We’re going to do everything we possibly can.”
The Cavaliers only guaranteed Bynum $6 million in the first year of the deal, but he could earn an additional $6 million through performance incentives. Cleveland holds a $12 million team option for the second season.
Bynum, who hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since May 21, 2012, made $16.9 million last year with Philadelphia. He averaged 18.7 points and 11.7 rebounds for the Lakers two seasons ago — earning his lone All-Star selection — while playing under Cavaliers coach Mike Brown.
“I was an All-Star in this league, but I feel like I still have a lot of room to grow,” said Bynum, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 draft. “I had a year off, a year to watch basketball and learn the game from the outside in. I saw what I need to do.
“With the time off, I’ve been able to get the swelling in my knees out, so I’m anxious and ready to start. I’ve already moved to Cleveland, and come Monday, I’ll be working here every day.”
The New Jersey native appeared to be in good shape, which he credited to “non-weight bearing exercises I’ve been doing to strengthen my legs.” Bynum added that he weighed 305 pounds, but planned on being at his playing weight of 285 by the start of the regular season.
If Bynum is healthy, he gives the Cavaliers a formidable three-man core with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Anderson Varejao. Cleveland signed point guard Jarrett Jack and small forward Earl Clark earlier in this free agency period, giving it three additions with significant playoff experience.
The Cavaliers also drafted UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett with the top overall pick, and has another developing big man in third-year pro Tristan Thompson.
“Kyrie’s talent is world renowned,” Bynum said. “Not having had the opportunity to play with a great point guard, a great one-five (point guard-center) combination is always a key in this game that we play.
“I also can’t wait to play with Anderson, honestly, because he brings a kind of energy and passion for the game that I haven’t been around before. We have the talent, and we definitely have an opportunity to go far.”
The 76ers had the same intentions last year, but skidded to a 34-48 campaign after dealing All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala and center Nikola Vucevic as part of the package for Bynum. His work ethic was called into question when he was unable to play in November, and his reputation suffered more damage after opting for season-ending surgery five months later.
“I was completely surprised with the way things turned out in Philly,” said Bynum, who has a .566 career field goal percentage. “I showed up and I was in playing shape, and I had every intention of playing. It’s just unfortunate it didn’t work out. The criticism, I thought, was unfair, but it comes with the territory.”
Cleveland went 24-58 last season, making it 64-166 in three years since Akron native LeBron James left the franchise to sign with the Miami Heat as a free agent. James is eligible to opt out of his contract next summer, when the Cavaliers will be at least $20 million under the salary cap and hope to add the final piece to their puzzle.
Bynum understands that he can’t change what occurred in Philadelphia, but he can affect the future in Cleveland.
“I want to get this team back into the playoffs and make some noise,” he said. “The Cleveland fans deserve that. I will bring leadership and experience to the great young nucleus of guys we have here. We have the talent. Now, all it’s going to take is hard work, and I’m willing to do that.”
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