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Irish Coffee: Why an Andrew Bynum trade isn’t crazy

12.30.13 at 11:02 am ET
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The Cavaliers suspended 26-year-old former All-Star center Andrew Bynum indefinitely over the weekend — a penalization for detrimental conduct that the team lifted after all of 24 hours before placing him on paid leave — so rumors have swirled around Cleveland dealing the oft-injured, much-maligned, weird-hairdoed 7-footer.

Naturally, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is doing his due diligence to determine Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s asking price. In a series of tweets on Saturday, Bill Simmons lumped the Celtics in with the title-contending Clippers and Heat among Bynum’s suitors, but there’s a catch to all this.

Regardless of whether or not Bynum eventually lands in Los Angeles or Miami — the latter of which Gilbert would probably like to prevent — the Celtics may still be interested in acquiring him, if only for his quirky contract.

This past summer, after missing the entire 2012-13 NBA season due to knee injuries, Bynum signed a two-year, $24.8 million deal in Cleveland, but the structure of the contract is a unique one. Only $6 million is guaranteed should the Cavaliers or any potential trade partner cut him prior to Jan. 7. Likewise, next year’s $12.5 million price tag does not become guaranteed until July 10, so there are salary cap-saving options galore.

If the Cavaliers and Bynum will ultimately be parting ways, in a strange way there’s no time like the present for them to sell high on him. Of course, the Celtics wouldn’t be willing to part with Rajon Rondo for a guy who’s played just 24 games since 2011-12 and remains on leave for what appears to be a disdain for playing basketball, so a deal between the two teams would have to be a larger one.

Cavaliers blog Fear the Sword proposed an interesting swap (h/t Red’s Army): Jeff Green and Courtney Lee for Bynum and one of Cleveland’s two first-round picks in 2014. The Cavs possess their own first-rounder and the Kings’ top selection (protected 1-12) in this coming June’s loaded draft. With two potential lottery picks and fresh off the disastrous No. 1 overall choice of Anthony Bennett, Cleveland may be willing to part with a prized pick for Green, who the Cavaliers were rumored to be interested in as a third party during the Omer Asik sweepstakes.

So, why would it make sense for the Celtics to part with their leading scorer? Ainge’s stockpiling of first-round picks is no secret, and by cutting Bynum before Jan. 7 (or even at season’s end), he could shave as much as $36.5 million off the cap through 2016 by shipping Green and Lee’s $15 million combined annual salaries. Such a deal slices the C’s guaranteed commitments to just $35.5 million next season, offering complete flexibility on the free agent market while landing a third first-round pick for the league’s most loaded draft in a decade.

Suddenly, trading Green for Bynum doesn’t seem so strange. And if Cleveland won’t take on the remaining $11.1 million due Lee after this season, Ainge might assuage those concerns by including Keith Bogans instead, still saving the Celtics $25.5 million through 2016. This is the kind of creative thinking that expedites the rebuild.

Read More: Andrew Bynum, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Jeff Green
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