There's a reason why a contender with one of the most tight-knit and talented rosters in the NBA would take a chance on a player who had seemingly gone rogue and cast to the curb by his former club.
You can't teach size. And you can rarely find talent like Andrew Bynum.
It's been two years since the 7-footer was roaming the paint in Laker Land and largely regarded as the second-best center in the league behind Dwight Howard. In between that heyday and now, Bynum has been traded after having his best season, suffered multiple knee injuries, spent a year with the 76ers without actually playing a game, appeared in 24 uninspiring games with the Cavaliers only to be eventually suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and finally, traded to the Bulls purely to serve as a salary placeholder and be waived immediately.
So, yeah, a strong showing in his debut Tuesday night wasn't exactly on the docket.
After Pacers coach Frank Vogel announced earlier in the day that Bynum would make his debut against the Celtics, the big man checked into the game with 4:22 remaining in the first quarter. On his first touch, he threw down an emphatic dunk -- not that different from Greg Oden's first earlier this year.
On the ensuing defensive possession, he grabbed an above-the-rim rebound. A few players later, he made an impressive pass out of a double-team in the post to a cutting David West for an easy layup. Towering over smaller Celtics defenders -- who are questionable even against normal-sized folk -- he pulled down offensive rebounds for easy putbacks. In all, Bynum had his way with Boston's bunch of bigs in limited action, finishing with eight points (3-of-4 shooting) and 10 rebounds in just 16 minutes.
"I felt like I played alright," Bynum told Fox Sports Indiana's Brooke Olzendam after the game. "You know it's a new system, so I got to learn it and get better position on the block and become a bigger target. I thought I could have done more damage out there, but I was rebounding and felt good. My knees felt good. I had some spring in my step."
Bynum has spent the past few weeks rounding himself back into shape (he's still not quite there yet) and steadily increasing his participation in Pacers practices. With word of his increased workload, Bynum's debut with the team appeared to be near, but it was expedited by Ian Mahinmi suffering a bruised rib over the weekend that forced him to sit out Tuesday.
As solid of a debut as it was for Bynum, everything he did against Boston should be taken with a mammoth grain of salt. Most glaring was the fact that he did it against one of the worst teams in the league, with bruisers like Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries masquerading as centers. Second, we already knew Bynum was talented and could be dominant in stretches. But is he dedicated?
Is he really cool with playing 15 minutes a night? Can he play behind Hibbert and compete with Mahinmi? Is he going to lose his cool with Lance Stephenson -- as he briefly appeared to Tuesday -- when he doesn't pass him the ball? Is he willing to put the Pacers' interests ahead of his?
If he does, the Pacers will have a talented backup center at their disposal for the rest of the season. Indiana's second-unit has undergone a complete makeover this year, with Evan Turner serving as the most recent addition, but Bynum could turn out to be the most critical piece of all.
Or he could lose interest and be a flop, as we saw in Cleveland and Philadelphia. If Bynum is out of the picture in Indy, the Pacers will still be title contenders with Mahinmi backing up Hibbert. As for Bynum, his NBA career is unlikely to end no matter how many bridges he burns if he's healthy and willing.