MILWAUKEE – With bulky pads deliberating his legs and every move and every step now, Andrew Bynum came onto the court in warm-ups, and so much has been habitual for him. There were two trainers working out with Bynum, trying to elevate his stamina, his rhythm in an assortment of shooting and back-to-the-basket drills, and then they moved into the training room – all part of a regimen designed to keep him sharp and, most of all, healthy.
So far, so good. Bynum has played four games as part of a comeback with an established Cleveland Cavaliers organization that prepared itself to fulfill his rehabilitation. Through it all, a clear truth washed over Bynum: His rehab promises to be ongoing. His knees remain painful, as slightly as he concedes.
“I don’t think the pain will decrease,” Bynum told RealGM. “It’s just where I’m at. For my conditioning, the more I play, the better I’ll get conditioning wise.”
Before the Cavaliers’ five-point loss to the Bucks on Wednesday night, Bynum ran around the layup lines with burst, with enthusiasm, as he’d pull crossover dribbles out of his imagination and shoot jumpers. Even as he detaches emotion from his return, people close to him have alluded to his relief since the summer.
Bynum will bolster a frontcourt that has two physical players, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, but fails to complement a dynamic backcourt. He’s lacked his old mobility for extensive stretches during games, but scouts cite his spry movements in workouts, cite a belief that midseason is a fair, accurate determination of his status.
At that point, how much will Bynum’s athleticism have progressed? At that point, how close will he put himself with the skilled, agile center who started the All-Star game two seasons ago?
Mike Brown has eased Bynum into these games, and he knew the big man far better than any of the coaches competing for him in free agency. Away from Hollywood, Bynum listens to Brown, and there’s no hoisting three-pointers, no power struggle with the coach. Now, he’s receptive to run from one end of the floor to another – out of a call from the bench – to heed Brown’s strategy on defense.
Brown had given a grueling 3½-hour practice on Sunday, but Cavaliers players responded by tiring late in a one-point win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and let him know that the length of the session had an impact. So, he shortened Tuesday’s practice to just over an hour – and a sluggish start against Milwaukee came out of it.
O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal had combined to make 10 three-pointers and the Bucks had dropped 109 points on Brown’s defense, and it left Brown blasting the Cavaliers’ effort.
“Maybe I spoke too soon about our team defensively,” Brown said. “We have to figure out what it takes to win on the road, and right now, as a group, we don’t know what it takes to win on the road. That’s disappointing.
“I need somebody on this team that wants to come out and get stops at the beginning. Not only get stops, but have a mental edge, a mental focus on the defensive end of the floor.”
For Bynum, these four games have been relieving, yet unsatisfying. He’s confident that he’s passed a threshold for more minutes, but the Cavaliers are wise to bring him along gradually. A return to Philadelphia looms on Friday, and he’ll surely get booed mercilessly.
Between now and then, Bynum will spend his training with the Cleveland staff. “Just working toward getting back,” he said late Wednesday, “they’ve helped me.” For Andrew Bynum, so much has become part of normalcy: Those hulking pads, a training plan under the Cavaliers – all in hopes of managing his knees. So far, so good.