Let me start off by saying this: The Sixers had to trade for Andrew Bynum—for many reasons.
NBA championships are not won by scrappy aggregations of hustling role players eager to give their all in pursuit of a ring. If that were the case, Denver would have taken the title from the Heat in June. Teams need standouts out to take up residence in the upper reaches of the league.
Fans don’t fill arenas in cities like Philadelphia hoping to see teams finish sixth in the conference. There must be excitement and the potential of big things to drive ticket sales.
And any time you can get rid of Andre Iguodala and not receive a box of old socks and a leather basketball with laces on it in return, you make the deal. Immediately! So, criticizing the Sixers for jumping into the four-team trade designed to keep the Lakers relevant after Kobe Bryant retires doesn’t make sense. The franchise is to be applauded for trying to get better and making itself more appealing.
But it is certainly appropriate to criticize Bynum.
For all of his height and the glorious designation as the “Second Best Center in the NBA,” Bynum is not a sure bet to help the Sixers to bigger things. His unpredictable personality and history of knee problems make him a potentially combustible presence on the roster, and an expensive one ($16.1 mil) at that.
Throughout his career, Bynum has rewarded the Lakers’ faith in him–they refused to include him in trades that could have brought tremendous talent to the team–with some knuckleheaded behavior (hanging at the Playboy Mansion this past year while he was supposed to be rehabbing his achy knee; body-slamming then-Dallas guard J.J. Berea in the finale of the Lakers’ playoff loss to Dallas in 2011) and some mystifying on-court play. Remember that mini-three-point binge he went on last year, to the chagrin of Lakers’ coach Mike Brown? And let’s not forget his comment last winter when trade rumors swirled around him. “There’s a bank in every city,” he said.
People counter the Bynum/bonehead argument by saying he is in a contract year and most certainly won’t misbehave in Philadelphia. That’s no guarantee. First, as “The Second Best Center in the NBA” (Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson and Brook Lopez form a relatively uninspiring pack behind him), Bynum will command a maximum contract next summer, even if he channels his inner late-career Rodman this season. Second, with his childhood pals from Jersey just about an hour away, he’ll have maximum potential for distraction.
Bynum has size and talent, but his immature behavior and continued unwillingness to work himself into the kind of condition necessary to be a standout make him no sure bet for big things in Philadelphia. If you don’t believe me, listen to what a Western Conference executive Who Knows, says about Bynum:
“He’s the most immature, me-first, undedicated All-Star in the league. He’s surrounded by a bunch of sycophants (chiropractors, workout guys, etc.) that know little-to-nothing about what it takes to be successful. That’s exceeded in disappointment only by Bynum’s lack of work ethic. He doesn’t love the game, and his knee will never survive the length of his next [long-term] contract.”
Come on, Sir, tell us what you really think.
Okay, so that’s one man’s opinion. But if someone in a position of authority in the NBA has such a feeling of distaste for Bynum–and, no, it’s not Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak—it can’t be a good thing. The previous assessment isn’t merely a take-him-or-leave-him sentiment. This guy is about as down on Bynum as you can be on someone in the NBA, and there are plenty of guys in that league to dislike.
Sixers’ coach Doug Collins’ challenge will be to get Bynum to care on a daily basis, something that won’t be easy, given Bynum’s mercurial behavior in the past. He’ll also have to be careful with the minutes Bynum plays. Even though he started 60 of the Lakers’ 66 regular-season games last season and during the off-season visited Germany for the same Orthokine treatment (removal of a patient’s blood and re-injection of platelets after isolating them by high-speed spinning of the blood) that helped Kobe Bryant stay healthy in 2011-12, Bynum must still be handled carefully. He had surgery to repair torn cartilage in 2010, received an injection of the lubricant Synvisc last year and missed an average of 31 games a year in the four seasons prior to last. Bynum’s driver’s license may say he is 24, but his knees are approaching middle age.
And what does it say about Bynum that Orlando GM Rob Hennigan was more interested in taking back Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Moe Harkless, Nik Vucevic and likely non-Lottery draft picks in the trade for Dwight Howard, instead of Bynum? Not a lot. “Rob Hennigan’s a smart guy,” the Western exec says. “There’s a reason he valued a bunch of role players and weak draft picks over Bynum.”
Once again, this was a deal the Sixers had to make. It completes their dramatic off-season transformation and makes them a team with realistic designs on the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference. But be careful before you give your heart over to Andrew Bynum, because he may well break it this season.
And then leave town next summer.
• Say this for the Phillies without Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino: They are sure fun to watch. The team is playing with more heart and spirit than it did the first four months of the season, although let’s hope GM Ruben Amaro doesn’t regret not letting the Dodgers take struggling (1-1, 4.35 ERA, 35 hits, 29 innings in last four starts) Cliff Lee off waivers earlier this month. He may not have much trade value some the off-season.
• Linebackers shaky: Check. Safeties underperforming: Check. Looks like the Eagles are picking up right back where they ended 2011. It’s early, of course, but his group must tighten things up–and fast–or that dynasty talk will look pretty silly. You mean it’s too late for that? Never mind.
• Jack Nicklaus slept well Sunday night. Tiger Woods’ major drought reached 14 straight, and with each passing year it seems less and less likely the once-invincible golfer will match the Golden Bear’s career total. Pity.