The Cleveland Cavaliers are taking a chance on Andrew Bynum and his creaky knees.
The free agent center, who never played one second with Philadelphia last season because of knee injuries, has agreed to terms on a two-year contract with the Cavs, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. Other media outlets are also reporting the news.
Bynum accepted the deal on Wednesday night, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hasn’t announced the agreement. Earlier Wednesday, Bynum visited the Dallas Mavericks, and earlier this week met with the Atlanta Hawks.
The 7-footer was traded to the 76ers last summer as part of a four-team blockbuster. Bynum, a former All-Star with the Lakers, was expected to help Philadelphia contend, but the 25-year-old never stepped on the court and underwent surgery on both knees in March.
The Cavs are only guaranteeing $6 million and one year to Bynum, the person said. The team has a $12 million option on the second year, and the contract could reach $24 million if Bynum hits certain performance bonuses.
It’s a minimal-risk signing for the Cavs, who have concerns about Bynum’s knees and will have protection built into the deal. But owner Dan Gilbert’s willingness to take the gamble allowed the Cavs to get a player who could help them climb back among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
In Cleveland, Bynum will be reunited with Cavs coach Mike Brown. The two spent one season together in Los Angeles, and Bynum had his most productive year as a pro, averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in 60 games while earning an All-Star spot.
Bynum, if healthy, should move the Cavs from one of the East’s worst teams to a playoff contender. Cleveland won just 24 games last season and has won only 66 in the three years since LeBron James left.
Bynum can change that. With two NBA titles, he has plenty of playoff experience and he will give the Cavs another proven star to go along with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and a young, talented core.
In guaranteeing Bynum only one year, the Cavs have an out if he doesn’t perform up to expectations. But if he does play well, the Cavs will have a roster that could attract another high-profile free agent next summer, when James can opt out of his deal in Miami and hit the market.
The landing of Bynum caps a successful offseason for the Cavs and especially general manager Chris Grant, who had more pressure placed on him when Gilbert vowed after winning the NBA draft lottery that the Cavs would get back to the playoff next season.
After re-hiring Brown, who was fired three years ago, Grant selected UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s draft. Cleveland then reached agreements with free agent forward Earl Clark and guard Jarrett Jack, two players who will fit nicely into the Cavs’ rotation.
The Cavs will introduce Clark and Jack at a news conference on Friday, but Bynum is not expected to attend.
Motivated and in shape, Bynum has the potential to get Cleveland back near the top more quickly. A force on the floor, the 280-pounder will give Brown a defensive presence to protect the rim and he can do enough on offense to keep teams honest inside.
The Cavs sold Bynum on their future, and their association with the Cleveland Clinic and its doctors were a comfort to a player who has had knee problems for years. Bynum didn’t work out for the Cavs, but the team was able to examine his knees and came away knowing there are risks but convinced he is worth their investment.
Bynum’s agent, David Lee, has said his client will be ready when training camp begins.
Bynum’s signing comes three summers after James decided to leave the Cavs after seven seasons to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Cleveland has had trouble luring high-profile free agents in the past, but if the gamble with Bynum pays off, that might not be such a problem in the future.