Will Bynum, a sixth-year pro, put up 28 points against the Heat. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Will Bynum was knocked over by a linebacker playing small forward with the number 6 on his jersey Thursday night, then took the time to lie on his back for a quick second before acknowledging LeBron James’ hand to help him up.
It was literally the only time Bynum took a breather in an exhibition game he played against the two-time champions, no less. One where he played 46 minutes — 13 more than the next closest participant.
His 93 seconds on the bench was probably longer than he wanted, but that invisible man behind Bynum seemed to loom more in his head than in reality — no time for rest when there’s opportunity at stake — because even when the games don’t count, there’s no such thing as a meaningless outing.
Being pressed into extra duty because of Brandon Jennings’ wisdom toothache, Rodney Stuckey’s thumb injury, Chauncey Billups taking the night off and Peyton Siva’s calf injury would make other seasoned vets cringe, but it was yet another chance for Bynum to prove himself capable to a coaching staff and a front office he desperately wants to believe in him.
Going undrafted, playing overseas and not getting a first guaranteed contract until he reached the age of 26 tends to breed a little edge, even if it’s two contracts later.
“That (doesn’t) exist,” Bynum said in his slight Chicago drawl, when asked if there’s ever a point where he doesn’t have something to prove. “In reality, it doesn’t.”
Bynum’s 28 points, six assists and four rebounds won’t be remembered by many, considering it wasn’t televised and this is, of course, the preseason, but it left an imprint on his coach.
“I didn’t know he could do that,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “I’ve seen him do certain things before but I didn’t know he could move a scoreboard like that.”
When Cheeks was notified Bynum holds the team record for points in a quarter — Bynum scored 26 during a fourth quarter against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2009 when the Pistons were just as desperate to keep hold of a playoff spot as Bynum was to hold a roster spot — he was equally amazed and surprised.
“I’ve never seen it like that. ... I heard he could score like that, in certain spots,” Cheeks said. “That was pretty phenomenal last night. That’s saying a lot considering the banners up there.”
Bynum spent more time in the land of the giants than anyone Thursday, with circus shots, twisting layups and an overall effort that brought the crowd to its feet more than once. He won’t say it but he feels like someone is always looking to replace him, someone looking for a better option.
So he toes the line from being aggressive to being occasionally out of control, hence his seven turnovers against a trapping Heat defense that at times was in postseason form.
When he was asked if he feels like he has to balance between facilitating and doing too much, Bynum didn’t flinch.
He knows Cheeks said the intention is to play four guards, not five, and many people figured him to be the odd man out with Billups, Jennings, Stuckey and first-round draft pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as teammates.
“Not with this opportunity. This is different,” Bynum said. “That little slight (hesitation) can hurt you out there. In the NBA, these are the best players in the world. You have to be aggressive and you have to play with that edge. That’s how I play.”
Stuckey’s injury notwithstanding, Cheeks said Bynum likely would have been in the rotation anyway. But the experience from the 2010-11 season, when then-coach John Kuester struggled to balance minutes for Bynum, Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Stuckey and Tracy McGrady, leads the barely 5-foot-10 guard to leave nothing to chance.
“I’m focused, I’m blessed. I approach this opportunity with humility and hunger,” Bynum said. “Anytime in this league an opportunity presents itself, it’s a chance to improve people’s thoughts about you. That’s how I approach every situation every day. Doing what I love to do.”
And even though Cheeks wasn’t cut in the same mold as Bynum, not an aggressive scoring guard but a table-setter, Bynum is glad that after his long road he has a coach who can relate to him — even on the smallest of levels.
“It’s totally different. I understand him when he says certain things, I understand that he sees what I saw,” Bynum said. “That’s big that he has a lot of confidence in me. I’ve never had that.”