Marcus Hayes: Sixers would be wise to exercise caution with Bynum

Posted: August 16, 2012

THE SIXERS and Andrew Bynum haven't even finished dessert on their first blind date.

No matter.

Sixers owner Josh Harris is ready to tie the knot. He cannot offer Bynum a max-deal fast enough.

"Where do I sign?" Harris chirped. "Show me the contract!"

Hold on, honey.

Isn't it always better to play hard to get? Just a little bit?

After all, Bynum lands in Philadelphia with more baggage than the backlog at US Airways terminals.

Josh Harris, venture capitalist, doesn't sweat baggage. He didn't build a net worth of more than $1.6 billion worrying about some entitled young employee. Harris would rather corner the market, then deal with the issues:

"It is intelligent risk."

Well phrased.

Bynum is 24, big and talented, a 7-foot, 285-pound unique combination of touch and power and timing just entering his prime. He's local, too, having grown up 50 miles away, in Plainsboro, N.J.

Maybe this marriage can work.

Bynum said he is not interested in becoming a free agent next year. He said he is "leaning" toward either extending his current, 1-year, $16.1 million deal or waiting to re-sign for more years and more money after this season. He said he believed the Sixers could be a "dominant" team.

Bynum said he yearns to be the face of a franchise. He played seven seasons in harness with acerbic Kobe Bryant, 5with aloof Pau Gasol and three with metaphysical disaster Metta World Peace.

He played under rafters where hang the retired jerseys of George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - the latter a former tutor of Bynum's and, lately, a pointed critic.

The Sixers haven't had a star since Allen Iverson left in 2006, and they haven't had a star center since Moses Malone took them to their last title, in 1983, 4 years before Bynum was born.

As inviting as the Philadelphia situation seems, Bynum knows that he has no idea what sort of team he is joining. He cannot know if guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner will get him the ball, or if coach Doug Collins will ride him too hard for his liking.

So, even as the Sixers expose themselves to his whim, Bynum is playing hard to get.

Just a little bit.

The Sixers should be a bit less eager, too.

Bynum has two surgically repaired, arthritic knees that will receive blood-spinning treatments in Germany within the next month. Bynum said the therapy will not cost him any time at training camp.

"Obviously the risk with Andrew is injury, and re-signing him at the end of the year," Harris said. "I thought the upside was so much more than the risk."

That is not the extent of the risk, and Harris knows it.

Bynum has a history, both recent and past, of insubordination, immaturity and chilling, on-court violence. Harris and Collins are happy to give him the chance to obliterate those incidents. Bynum is glad to have it.

"Yeah," Bynum said, when asked if his reputation can be rebuilt. "It definitely can be, out here."

Bynum, in LA, found himself faced with the paradox of comparative insignificance and great expectations. He played for a superstar coach, Phil Jackson, in the nation's most soulless city.

Not exactly a nurturing environment for a kid drafted as a 17-year-old.

"How much more pressure could you play under than he did in LA?" Collins said. "Somewhere along the line, he said a couple of immature things."

Usually, Bynum apologized. Usually, Bynum then did something else.

"It was time for a change," Bynum said.

A permanent change? Maybe.

"I don't want to move around a lot," Bynum said. "I said it before: There's a bank in every city. I enjoy Philly. I don't see any reason why I wouldn't want to stay here."

The Sixers will be able to offer Bynum more money than any other team.

They will be able to offer him fame unattainable in LA, where Bynum would be the sixth most famous player at the Staples Center; remember, Clippers Chris Paul and Blake Griffin work there, too.

The Sixers will be able to assure Bynum that continued productivity as a center will make him the East's best.

Intelligent arguments, all.

One immediate reward for the Sixers' risk: Season tickets have been "flying off the shelves" since the deal was finalized last week, claimed CEO Adam Aron. The Sixers offered no statistical evidence.

The empirical evidence: Hundreds of Sixers fans crammed themselves into a cordoned mosh pit on the second floor of the National Constitution Center to watch the press conference.

Which, really, was less a press conference than an outrageous publicity stunt aimed at impressing Bynum. It worked.

"The recruiting process started today," Harris said. "This was a good kickoff."

It might well be remembered as a wake if Bynum does not perform. It's not as if the Sixers spent nothing for Bynum and wingman Jason Richardson.

They cost All-Star and Olympian forward Andre Iguodala, first-round picks Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless and a future first-rounder, too. That's four players.

This deal was done at a steep price of talent and of character.

Not that Bynum lacks character. Despite his issues, he stayed out of jail and last year stayed out of the hospital. Bynum isn't a punk, and he isn't a thug.

But he isn't a man, either. Not yet, anyway. Maybe, in Philadelphia, he will become one. Maybe being the franchise player will transform him.

"I look at it as an opportunity to take a team and be 'The Guy' and advance my career. Personal goals would be more realistic to attain here," Bynum said.

Late in games, it will be Bynum with the ball in his hands: "There, it might have been Kobe . . . I'm looking forward to seeing just how far I can push a team."

Asked whether he could handle that pressure, Bynum borrowed George C. Patton's line: "Pressure makes diamonds."

Some diamonds are flawed.

As titillating as Bynum's talents might be, Harris would prove most intelligent if he spends a few months in courtship before he slips a diamond on the finger of Andrew Bynum.

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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