INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Eastern Conference’s top team just got more imposing.
On Saturday, the Pacers added size and scoring punch to their roster by signing mercurial free agent center Andrew Bynum for the rest of the season. Team officials did not release additional details about the contract and said Bynum was expected to join the team sometime next week.
“We are obviously happy to have him join our team,” Larry Bird said in a statement issued by the team less than 12 hours before Indiana hosted Brooklyn on Saturday night.
“He gives us added size, he is a skilled big man and he has championship experience. With the minutes he gets, he should be a valuable addition.”
Adding a guy with Bynum’s mercurial reputation to a locker room as selfless as the Pacers is definitely a gamble, though likely a low-risk one since Bird, the Pacers president of basketball operations, has made it clear the Pacers would not pay the NBA’s luxury tax and Indiana had an open spot on its roster.
But if Bynum performs as he did in helping the Lakers win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, it could create even more lineup mismatches against two-time defending champion Miami in the East.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the organization isn’t concerned about Bynum’s reputation.
“We like to judge people for ourselves, and we know what he can be as a basketball player,” Vogel said before Saturday night’s game. “We’re going to see if he can regain that form, and if he can, you have one of the best centers in the NBA. And now you add him to the mix we already have, and you have two of the best centers in the NBA. The goal here is to insure ourselves against injury in terms of adding depth at the center position, which we needed to do. And there’s potential to add an All-Star caliber player.”
Indiana (35-10) entered Saturday with a three-game lead over the Heat in the chase for home-court advantage and has made no secret of its desire to get the top seed in its quest to win the team’s first NBA crown.
Bynum will give the Pacers another big body off the bench, backing up All-Star center Roy Hibbert. And his offensive skills give Indiana another scorer to go with the league’s best defense.
Miami, which struggled against Indiana’s size during last season’s Eastern Conference finals, tried to close the gap by signing the oft-injured former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, an Indianapolis native, last summer. Oden has played sparingly this season, though he has been improving.
Saturday’s move could give the Pacers an even bigger advantage — if the 7-foot-1, 285-pound center returns to his previous form. The move also prevents the Heat from signing Bynum as had been widely speculated.
But Bynum is far from a sure thing.
After the Lakers traded Bynum to Philadelphia in 2012, he missed the entire season because of knee injuries.
This season, after signing with Cleveland as a free agent, he played in only 24 games before he was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. He was eventually dealt to Chicago, which quickly released Bynum so it didn’t have to guarantee the remaining $6 million owed to him this season.
Since then, Bynum has been looking for a landing spot and finally settled on Indiana.
“It really wasn’t a hard decision, I think it’s the right fit for me and, in all honesty, I think we’ve got the best chance of winning,” Bynum said in a statement. “It will be great to back up Roy and I’ll do whatever I can to help this team.”
With Cleveland, he averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. He has career averages of 11.5 points per game and 7.7 rebounds, and his best season came in 2011-12 when he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds with the Lakers.
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