Andrew Bynum is just 51 minutes into his comeback with the Cavaliers, and he's already wondering aloud whether it's time to call it a career.
Injuries to both knees sidelined Bynum for Philadelphia's entire 2012-13 season, and ongoing pain is currently preventing him from rekindling his 2012 All-Star form in Cleveland.
The Akron Beacon-Journal reports that Bynum, who will face the Sixers on Friday, admits that he pondered retirement during his lengthy rehabilitation, and that the thought remains in his mind even as the season unfolds.
“It was a thought, it was a serious thought. Still is,” Bynum said regarding retirement. “At the moment, it’s tough to enjoy the game because of how limited I am physically. I’m still sort of working through that.”
Pressed on whether or not he is still mulling retirement, Bynum said, “Yeah, every now and again.”
ESPN.com reports that Bynum's return to the court hasn't been accompanied by a peace of mind.
"It's still career threatening. I'm a shell of myself on the court right now. I'm just struggling mentally." ... "I just want to be able to play without pain and find the joy again," Bynum said. "Right now I'm battling pain and it's annoying. I'm not able to do the things I'm used to doing and it's frustrating."
The 26-year-old big man is averaging just 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12.8 minutes over four appearances off coach Mike Brown's bench. Contrast that with the 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds he averaged with the Lakers two seasons ago, and it's easy to see how the progress he's made since a pair of March surgeries would still feel discouraging. That's doubly true because he continues to deal with pain.
Outsiders might view Bynum's return to the court as a major accomplishment, given that he was sidelined for more than 17 months, but his 2013 debut was really only one box on the checklist for Bynum himself. Any All-Star in his prime who is faced with an extended recuperation will want to feel 100 percent, and then sustain it, before calling his recovery a success. At this point, Bynum's degenerative knees probably put those goals totally out of reach.
Without those carrots to strive for, Bynum is stuck with a different type of mental challenge. Is he ready to change his game? Is he ready to take a back seat on offense and in the rotation? Is he ready to deal with the day-to-day pain, aggravation and fear of re-injury knowing his career might never be what it once was? Is he able to sustain his motivation and desire to play through this extended transition process?
One wonders how Bynum's early success weighs on his current thought process. Still nearly four years away from turning 30, Bynum has two championships, an All-NBA selection, an All-Star Game selection and $70-plus million of salary to his name. Those accolades and compensation represent only a fraction of what could have been had he remained injury-free and progressed into a dominant superstar, but they're nothing to slough off either. Those accomplishments could allow a player in Bynum's position to walk away from the game early with his head held high. Or, they could haunt him into stepping away out of frustration and disappointment. Or, they could drive him to continue his career to the best of his ability, regardless of what shape or form that takes. They could be a huge factor or a non-factor, depending on Bynum's self-perception.
There's one other tough option: Cleveland could make this decision for him. It's happened before to the likes of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Contractually, Bynum is guaranteed $6 million this year and $12.3 million if he makes it through the guarantee date in January. The Cavaliers have a $12.6 million team option for the 2014-15 season, but it will take significant, unexpected progress over the next six months for Bynum to be worth such an investment. If Bynum isn't capable of providing difference-making play in a real rotation role, the Cavaliers can save themselves $6 million by pulling the plug in January, thereby throwing his career into even murkier waters. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert has made it clear he wants to gear up for a playoff run, and even a limited Bynum figures to be a part of that, as long as he's committed. That said, $6 million is $6 million, and the clock is already ticking for Bynum to prove that he's worth it, and that he still wants it.