When Howard was heading West, Sixers set their sights on Bynum

Posted: August 11, 2012

About a month ago, just after the Sixers had added rookies Maurice Harkless with the 15th pick in the draft and traded to acquire Arnett Moultrie, the team's front office, intrigued by the Orlando Magic's inability to move Dwight Howard, approached Orlando about getting involved with their assets and trying to trade for Howard, the NBA's best center.

While it did not work - the Magic ended the NBA's longest-running soap opera on Thursday when they reached a deal to move Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers - it opened the door for the Sixers to acquire the next best thing, Andrew Bynum. The Lakers' 7-foot, 285-pound 24-year-old center is universally regarded as the second-best center in the league, and Sixers got him as part of a four-team trade that was consummated by the league, pending team physicals, on Friday.

"Bynum came into the conversation with us around that time," Sixers president Rod Thorn said about the last three weeks. "When Howard appeared like he was going to go to New Jersey or Los Angeles, that's when Bynum came into the conversations with us."

The Sixers' interest in Howard helped them become a major participant in the Thursday deal that featured four teams, 12 players and five draft choices. To acquire Bynum, the starting center for the Western Conference all-star team and a player who averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and almost two blocks per game, the Sixers parted with all-star and Olympic forward Andre Iguodala, center Nic Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a future protected first-round draft pick.

The Sixers also received shooting guard Jason Richardson from Orlando.

Bynum does not come without some questions. While he appeared in 60 of 66 possible games, Bynum has had operations on both knees. The health of his knees had resulted in Bynum appearing in just 204 of a possible 328 games from the 2007-08 season through 2010-11.

He is in the last year of a contract that will pay him almost $16.5 million this season and will demand top dollar if he gets to free agency, where the Sixers will be able to pay him more money than any other team.

And he has had moments of petulance - he was caught on video partying at the Playboy Mansion while rehabilitating his knee - which the Sixers don't really seem concerned about.

What the Sixers are focused on is how Bynum changes things on the floor for a team that caught some lucky breaks and, in general, was viewed to have overachieved last season before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in seven games by the Boston Celtics.

"Andrew is viewed universally as the second-best center in the league," Thorn said. "We consider him to be one of those elite players that you can build around."

While Thorn admits that he does not have a guarantee that Bynum won't test the free-agent market, the Sixers president had a conversation with Bynum that left him confident the Sixers will be able to re-sign Bynum. As owner of his Bird rights – the clause in the collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to re-sign their own players to longer and more lucrative deals than other teams - Thorn said he was confident of the Sixers being able to retain their young center.

"I have had a conversation with him and he's very happy about being traded to us," Thorn said. "He thinks that we have a good team and he's very happy about it. Secondly he's from New Jersey [Plainsboro]. He's an East Coast guy more than a West Coast type of guy and we think that he'll be very happy here. You never know until it happens, but our feeling is that he will like it here and he will want to continue here."

Thorn said the two seasons he has overseen the basketball operations have increased his appreciation of Iguodala, whom he called a "terrific" player. But Thorn said that the Sixers front office agreed that the Sixers with Iguodala had reached their potential.

The consensus among coaches and the front office is that Bynum, on the other hand, gives them a chance to get much better.

"As our ownership said from the time they took over, they don't want to be a team in the middle of the pack; they want to be a team that is competing for the top spot in the league," Thorn said. "If we were going to do that we were going to have to make some changes.

"We've made a lot of changes obviously since the season ended," he continued. "This latest one we've made sort of puts the cherry on top of the icing, if you will, in that now we've got a player that is a difference maker."

 Contact staff writer John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JmitchInquirer. Read his deepsixer blog at philly.com

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