It was the biggest trade this past summer. A four team blockbuster deal involving the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, 13 players and 2 draft picks. Three of the aforementioned teams should be at least somewhat happy with the moves they made. The last team probably isn’t. Before we get into why they aren’t let’s quickly summarize where the first three teams stand.
Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets are 15-1 in their last 16 games and making those who predicted a Finals appearance at them look a little less foolish now. Even though their 15 game win streak was ended in embarrassing fashion by the
Hornets Pelicans, they beat quality teams (Thunder twice, Clippers, Grizzlies) during it. Denver is deep, matches up well with every team and, as we discussed here, is a team that nobody wants to see when the playoffs start.
Los Angeles Lakers – Since February, the Lakers have dug themselves out of the humongous early season hole they put themselves in and have risen up into the Western Conference’s 8th playoff seed. While they’re nearly healthy, they’ll be challenged for that spot by the
Utah Jazz Dallas Mavericks. Losing 3 straight games to the Suns, Wizards and Warriors should avail anyone of the notion that they can make noise in the playoffs should they make it.
Orlando Magic – Outside of Denver, the Magic are probably the happiest of the four teams if no other reason than the Dwightmare should be behind them. They wisely (?) passed on Andrew Bynum and have stockpiled young talent, most notably Nikola Vucevic, and several draft picks to help them rebuild. Magic fans should remain patient and have take solace in the fact that new GM Rob Hennigan appears to have a better grip on the job than Otis Smith ever did.
Philadelphia 76ers – Things are a bit dicey to say the least in the City of Brotherly love. They essentially traded Bynum for Andre Iguodala and Bynum had season ending knee surgery last week after missing the entire season already with knee problems. Head Coach Doug Collins went on a 20 minute post game meltdown a few weeks ago and most likely will be heading back to the announcing booth next season. At least, that’s what he should do. A year after being a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals, the Sixers will miss the playoffs by a wide margin. Jrue Holiday’s ascendance into a first time All-Star is the sole bright spot in their 2012-13 season.
The big question facing the Sixers’ front office this summer is what to do with free agent to be Andrew Bynum. It was a risky move to trade for a 7 footer with a history of health issues and that gamble has yet to yield any results. At his best, Bynum is a true center with a dominant post game. He’s one of the five best players at his position and an All-Star. The problem is, we’ve only seen him at his best for one full season. That was last year’s lockout shortened season when he appeared in 60 out of 66 games and showed his dominance by averaging 18.7 PPG and 11.8 RBG. Outside of that, Bynum’s been very good throughout his career (11.7 PPG, 7.8 RBG) though not necessarily great. What he hasn’t been is available to suit up on a regular basis.
Any decision to resign Bynum needs to factor in the other stuff that comes with his knee problems, size and talent. By other stuff, I don’t mean the hair styles that everyone loves to make fun of. I mean the maturity, mental toughness and whatever is required of being a franchise player and a team leader. I’ve followed Bynum since he was an 18-year-old rookie and he’s not yet demonstrated that he has the necessary poise to be a franchise cornerstone that everyone in Philadelphia and myself hoped he would be. He’s 25 and not done developing as a player or person, but one only needs to look at his history to doubt his ability or desire to become “That Dude.” From sitting out huddles, shooting weird 3 pointers and dirty fouls on multiple players his list of questionable actions is lengthy. Bynum did all those things without the added pressure of being the face of a franchise and hasn’t shown that he’s learned anything from Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher or Phil Jackson.
When free agency hits this July, Andrew will surely seek a max contract. A 5 year, $80 million deal that the Sixers would be unwise to offer even with a weak field of free agents. They’ve been through this exact situation before with Elton Brand. Brand was a better player than Bynum when the Sixers signed him to the same 5 year, $80 million dollar contract that Bynum is likely to ask for. And much like Bynum, Brand only appeared in 8 games due to an Achilles heel injury in the prior season to signing that contract. Elton never regained his All-Star form and the Sixers amnestied him last summer. One would think that the Sixers would have learned their lesson from that experience and offer him something like a 3 year, $35 million contract with a team option for the third year. Offering Bynum a max deal is risky move with the future of franchise at stake. Time will tell what the Sixers decide to with him and there are pros and cons for any decision they choose to take. If it were my money, I’d be hesitant to offer $80 million to a player who’d probably rather be bowling than playing basketball.