Bynum in the Balance: What could become of the 76ers and their new star
Leo Rautins, Jeff Ruland, Matt Geiger, Theo Ratliff, Todd McCullough, Elton Brand…
Since well before my time, the Philadelphia 76ers have really had a way with big men. “Was never the same again” is a terrible mantra for referencing your own players. It could have been said about all those listed during their tenure with the 7-6. Not since the days of Moses have we possessed a big that was both dominant and structurally sound.
So, you’ll excuse me if my expectations and hopes toward the recently acquired Andrew Bynum came pre-dampened, soaked with Sixers cynicism. Maybe it’s the ghosts of pivots past (see above for casualty report), or maybe it’s my deep existential protest to any move that even tangentially benefits the viscerally loathsome Los Angeles Lakers. But, something about this trade and this player just doesn’t have me dreaming of championship parades. There’s just so much to go wrong.
Sure, he averaged 19, 12 and 2 blocks last season. Sure he made his first All-star team, cemented his spot as the de-facto second-best center in the NBA and played a career high 60 injury-free games. On the other hand, he’s had four knee surgeries by age 24 and has already been shut down for the entire preseason after undergoing experimental German surgery on, you guessed it, his knees.
That last sentence would be concerning enough for any team, but for the Sixers? Sorry, I think I hear Todd McCullough’s rare, unheard of nerve disorder calling. (Side note: Other than Mac, when was the last pro athlete you remember suddenly retiring like that?)
And so, to help temper everyone else’s ballooning expectations, a completely unscientific catalog of the cataclysmic possible outcomes of The Bynum Era in Philly.
Note: Due to a glut of options in the “arbitrary scale” department, I have, arbitrarily, chosen to represent the potential Bynum meltdown scenarios with analogous past and present players)
The Amar’e Stoudemire: Bynum’s past injuries don’t repeat themselves and don’t prevent him from producing at a high level. They do, however, devastate the heart health and nail-chewing habits of the entire city. Every bump, fall or tweak will send us fans tachycardic and send our hope plummeting. Hate to say it, but this is what we have to look forward to as a “best case scenario”.
The Dwight Howard: Sorry to get your hopes up with the name drop there, but this refers to Howard’s off court catastrophes these past two years, not the on court dominance. Bynum quickly grows bored of any combination of the following: Philadelphia the city; the media and fans; the nightlife; our win total; Doug Collins. And proceeds to tune the team and coach out, do his own thing and try to subvert the organization in any way possible.
Don’t think he doesn’t have it in him either. Last year alone he unapologetically hoisted threes (no, really. He actively refused to apologize and actually vowed to shoot more of them), moped on the bench, tuned out first year coach Mike Brown (ok, ok, who wouldn’t tune that dude out) and famously blew off a one-on-one meeting with Laker’s GM Mitch Kupchak. Did I forget to mention he did all this while playing to earn a new contract, in LA, for a serious title contender?
I would say the copper lining in this comparison is that Dwight managed to maintain elite play during his shenanigans but I’m not sure Bynum is even that mature. Is it bad that this idea is making me miss the days of Iverson and C-Webb skipping fan appreciation night? Thought so.
The Ron Artest: I’m talking the Malice at the Palace, throwing elbows at James Harden iteration of Artest, not the irrelevantly insane one that exists in between violent outbursts. Bynum set his own critical incidence level for this kind of behavior in the 2011 playoffs when he threw a dangerous forearm shiver to the airborne, 5’6” (!!!) JJ Barea during the closing seconds of the Laker’s ignominious elimination.
If all that portends is occasional midget-flattening rampages, well that would still be pretty bad. But what if it gets worse? That’s the problem with what he did against Dallas, it’s not just that he did it, but that he’s totally capable of snapping in a bad situation.
Hell, not only did he club Barea, he then indignantly tore his jersey and undershirt off and stormed, half-naked, across the court upon his ejection. Come to think of it, that does sound eerily Ron Artest-ish. Can the Sixers cry foul that someone allowed these two to play together for so many years? Does dealing with Iverson make us in any way more suitable for this?
Note: This can also be had as a combo platter with the aforementioned “Dwight Howard special” for double the discomfort.
The Shaq in Orlando: So we wind up with Andrew Bynum, retool our team and expectations completely around him, spend this entire upcoming season trying to convince him to sign a long term contract extension, but what if he doesn’t? The elephant in the room here is that Bynum could leave for nothing at the end of this season. Sure, he would have to take a pay-cut, but given Philly’s track record of making big splash signings (no record to speak of), it doesn’t seem like money alone works here. And, the 600-lb gorilla riding that elephant in the room is that our optimism towards him signing is based entirely upon the fact that he grew up in Jersey. I’m sorry, but improving my proximity to New Jersey would not factor into any serious life decisions of mine.
That said, if Bynum does choose to take his talents elsewhere, it would leave the Sixers with a ton of cap room which, given the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s provisions, is more valuable and useful than ever. In that light, this possibility may not be as detrimental as the “Ron Artest”. I just assumed, given that this a piece about Bynum, not having him should rank fairly low. But, not nearly as low as…
The Greg Oden: This one needs little explanation and is possibly more likely than anyone is willing to acknowledge. Andrew Bynum hasn’t played a full, healthy season since the early part of his high school career. And his continued good health requires ignoring an undeniable line of sports logic: In sports, people who get injured often tend to keep getting injured often; young players tend to get injured less often than older players; hulking behemoths tend to put a lot of pressure on their knees and are prone to injure them. Therefore, a gigantic 24-year-old with an existing rap sheet of knee injuries is probably the last person you want to bet on staying healthy, just ask Mr. Oden.
And the similarities don’t end at the knees. Both Bynum and Oden play (or would play) a bruising, high contact style. They both seem to hit the deck more often than they should given their size. Each has preexisting medical issues that raise the likelihood of injury: Bynum has abnormally loose ligaments or hypermobility in the joints; while Oden has the Samuel L. Jackson disease from “Unbreakable”.
And they both seem to run like a poorly animated, Scooby- Doo characters. (not sure if that last one is medically relevant, but that disjointed of a gait can’t be good for the knees and it’s hilarious looking). And to think, I got through that without an explicit “Greg Oden porn career” reference…
The Allan Houston: Honestly, chronic, dominance-ending injuries are only the second worst thing that could happen. If it’s anything like Greg Oden, injuries will happen early and continuously. But what if they don’t? What if Bynum plays a stellar 2012-2013 season, signs his 5-year, $125 million contract with the Sixers, and THEN gets hurt. Welcome to my nightmare. A nightmare championed by former Knicks $20 million injured reserve, Allan Houston. A nightmare that is bad enough to actually have a CBA provision named after it.
Because Allan Houston signed a massive contract with the Knicks in 2001 and then proceeded to play only 70 total games in his last two NBA seasons the NBA saw fit to give teams an exemption in the new CBA. Too bad the Allen Houston Rule only applies to players signed before July of 2011…and we already used ours on Elton Brand.
If Bynum goes down post-contract signing, we’re stuck with him, and completely crippled financially. Think of how much worse the Miami Heat would be if Lebron James was suddenly permanently sidelined. Now remember that the Sixers don’t have Wade or Bosh and will inevitably have to pay Bynum MORE than James earns. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013-2016 76ers! Get used to Nick Young billboards…
Of course, all that doom and gloom could be wrong. We could have just acquired the 2nd best center in the NBA and first real star since Iverson with no cosmic catches, no Karmic strings attached. Maybe young Bynum will thrive here, take his talents, and our team, to new heights. But come on? Who really has Phaith in that?