Bob Ford: Despite win, 76ers not ready for prime time without Bynum

Posted: November 01, 2012

Despite the lights, the music, the dancing girls, and the fusillade of T-shirts pummeling unsuspecting fans, what the Sixers had Wednesday night in the Wells Fargo Center would be called a "soft opening" on Broadway.

The production isn't quite ready to be critiqued. All the actors aren't in place yet. The script is still being punched up. Whether the show catches fire or flops badly is still unknown.

Whatever the Sixers might become this season, the team on display Wednesday night is not what the front office had in mind when center Andrew Bynum was acquired over the summer. Assuming his knees will allow him to play eventually, and he doesn't have to fly to Thailand or someplace to have uranium injected into them, Bynum has the ability to make the Sixers a very good team.

If he does not or if he cannot, then Bynum will disappear after this season, leaving the Sixers with a lot of salary cap flexibility and a sudden need for a whole new plan. They've been there before, so that's no big deal, but it would render the current season as another stuck in a holding pattern. They knew the trade was a risk worth taking, but a risk nonetheless.

So, we wait and, in the meantime, try to figure out what kind of team will play in his absence. Against Denver on Wednesday, it was a good defensive team that forced enough turnovers and made enough three-point shots to overcome pretty bad overall shooting and so-so rebounding.

The Nuggets, also playing without a starting big man, hung around well enough to trim a 14-point deficit to a single point in the final minutes, but couldn't get stops at the end as the Sixers won, 84-75.

It was a win, it was the opener, confetti dropped and firecrackers exploded. But on most nights, they will have to play much better.

Among the things that will occupy coach Doug Collins as he also waits for Bynum is figuring out which of his many small forwards can actually play the position.

That always seems to be a question for the Sixers, even in the season after trading away Andre Iguodala. There is still a logjam of players between 6-foot-6 and 6-9, all of whom bring something to the court, and all of whom take something away.

As the season begins, Evan Turner is the starting small forward, because he plays well around the basket and because he does not on the perimeter, which is a drawback for a shooting guard. Against the Nuggets, in an ironic quirk of the schedule, Turner found himself matched up against Iguodala much of the night. Turner is a big part of the reason Iguodala was traded, and he steps into a role that didn't work out so well for his predecessor.

If Turner can play small forward, he can star in the NBA. If not, then he might eventually wear the burden of his high draft position the way Iguodala had to carry the weight of his overstuffed contract.

"I told Evan that I just wanted him to play with a peaceful spirit," Collins said. "Let's just cut out the noise and all the stuff clanking around."

Collins gave Turner that ethereal advice during the exhibition season, on a night when the coach would go home, turn on the television, and find The Legend of Bagger Vance, which he took as some kind of a sign.

"I'm a big karma guy. To me, Evan was Junuh and I was Will Smith. I was Bagger Vance," Collins said. "Will Smith would talk about the game, some tidbit, and all of a sudden the guy's unlocked. We've got to get Evan unlocked."

Well, we will see how the movie comes out this time, but Turner's previous two seasons under Collins have endured quite a few intermissions. On Wednesday, he made just the 35th regular-season start of his career. If he wants to keep getting them, Turner has to produce more than the five points and six rebounds he got against Iguodala and the Nuggets.

Pushing him for minutes at the swing positions are a group that includes Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Jason Richardson, and Thaddeus Young. The pushing will increase when Bynum returns and Spencer Hawes becomes a power forward.

That is what the next month or so means for Evan Turner. It will decide whether this incarnation of his career works, or whether he finds himself rooted to the bench again. If you're looking for something to watch while you wait for the big man, this is important.

"He's got all the dynamics," Collins said. "We're just trying to put it together."

One game is only one game, but the putts lipped out on this night, the spirit wasn't peaceful, and the caddie on his bag is not always a patient teacher.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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