It was supposed to be one the biggest moves of the season. It was supposed to turn the Philadelphia 76ers into a legitimate title contender.
Instead, their trade for Andrew Bynum has produced no results whatsoever, as he has yet to play a single game in a Sixers uniform. Of course, when the Sixers traded for Bynum, they knew about his injury history and they knew that they might be getting considerably less than they bargained for. Still, Bynum’s immense talent made it worth all the risk.
Unfortunately, things have backfired so far.
Bynum’s contract runs out at the end of the year, which begs the question: Will this be the only year that Bynum’s name appears on the 76ers roster?
The smart money would initially appear to be on “yes.” After all, he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the fans by sitting on the bench all the time, especially after he made his injury worse by going bowling. Also, would the Sixers really want to give a big contract to a player his obviously fragile?
Actually, they just might.
No one disputes that Bynum is injury-prone or that he has a reputation for being a bit of headcase, but no one disputes how much talent he possesses either. After hinting that he could be a first-rate center, Bynum finally made the leap in his final season with the Lakers, putting up career numbers and establishing himself as the second-best center in the league, trailing only Dwight Howard.
When Bynum is healthy, he’s the kind of guy you want on your team. Even if he jacks up the occasional unnecessary 3, he’s a better offensive player than any center in the league and his presence in the post is absolutely monstrous. Even if Bynum goes the entire season without setting foot on a basketball court, his obvious gifts will make him an enticing option for many teams, including–potentially–the one he’s on now.
Basically, the Sixers have two options. One, they could back out now and cut their losses. You could see why they might take that route; so far, Bynum’s given them no production and his only noteworthy attribute has been his hair. They might just let him head elsewhere, and try to put something together with the vast of guys they have.
Or, they could double down and give Bynum a deal this summer. Why would they do that? Because if he could return at the level he was at last season, the Sixers could become one of the best teams in the league.
Several players on the roster have made huge leaps forward this season, none more so than fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday. After years of displaying loads of potential, Holiday has burst on the scene and proven himself to be one of the premiere point guards in the Eastern Conference. It would not be surprising if he received an All-Star nod.
Evan Turner has also improved significantly. After two years of speculation that he might be a bust, he’s proven himself to be a reliable NBA starter, as he’s put up career highs in every category.
Most impressive is his improved passing, where he has averaged 4.3 assists per game. Turner is a fine ball distributor whose athleticism makes up for his shooting struggles.
Finally, after years of being on the second unit, Thaddeus Young broke into the starting lineup, and has established himself as the team’s best big man–at least in the absence of Bynum. He’s great at getting to the hoop and his ability to play both the three and four spots make him extremely valuable.
Clearly, there’s talent on this team. But without Bynum, it hasn’t been enough for the Sixers to hold their own in the Eastern Conference. After a promising start, their record has slipped to 15-22 and their odds of making the playoffs seems to decrease with each passing week. There’s talent on this team, but it has no anchor, no transcendent player to bring it all together.
Bynum could be that player and the Sixers know it. Without Bynum, the Sixers are stuck with a mediocre team that has no chance of contending and they would likely be forced to rebuild.
With Bynum (at his best), they could become one of the top teams in the East and maybe even give the Miami Heat a run for their money. His impact on this squad–and on the entire conference–would be seismic.
That’s why in spite of all his problems, the Sixers just might decide to give Bynum another shot in 2013. For a team desperately looking to become a contender, they could do a lot worse.
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