Looking on bright side of Bynum mess

Posted: November 27, 2012

SIXERS GENERAL manager Tony DiLeo isn't one for hyperbole. When he does talk about what's happening with his organization, he generally has all his bases covered and home plate backed up by the pitcher.

In general, DiLeo puts so much caulking within his words that it is difficult to read between the lines of what he says.

Basically, he doesn't give away that much.

That's why I found this statement from DiLeo, concerning the ongoing soap opera of Andrew Bynum and his broken down knees, interesting.

It wasn't the first part of what DiLeo said on Saturday.

"We are anticipating that [Bynum] will be back. We hope that he will be back," has been DiLeo's standard mantra since Bynum's knee kept him out of the first practice of training camp.

But DiLeo following up with - "We have plans for the future if he is not back with us" - was as interesting a statement as he has made in his nearly 2 decades with the Sixers organization.

Yes, DiLeo then said, "But we are anticipating that this is a short-term thing, but we are planning on [Bynum] being with us long-term."

Still, that was the first time anyone involved with the Sixers has even let slip the idea that they have considered any other option than Bynum getting healthy, playing the second half of this season and then being signed to a long-term contract.

And as I noted, DiLeo isn't the type of executive who lets ideas slip out. If he mentioned that the Sixers have plans for a potential life without Bynum, it was on purpose.

But it's good that the Sixers are making contingency plans. This thing with Bynum gets worse and worse with each update.

The Sixers say that Bynum is out indefinitely, and at this point, there is little reason to believe that Bynum will ever show up in a Sixers uniform.

Right now, the best plan is to accept this team as it is and then count it as a bonus if Bynum shows up for the last 30 games and the playoffs.

I don't for a minute believe that the Sixers didn't consider that the Bynum trade might not work in their favor.

The fact that Bynum will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season always created the chance that he would not be in Philadelphia long-term, even if he was completely healthy.

That was part of the gamble the Sixers made in the four-team trade that essentially cost them three players drafted in the first round - Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic and Moe Harkless - plus a protected future first-round pick.

But while the Sixers were and still are committed to Bynum being here long-term as their No. 1 option, the second option still could make the deal worthwhile.

By trading Iguodala, who is signed through next season, for Bynum, who is also an expiring contract, the Sixers go from having $15.9 million on the 2013-14 salary cap to potentially taking $16.4 million of it.

Even with veteran guard Jason Richardson, who also came in the deal, on the books for $6.2 million next season, that is still $10 million in freed up money for the Sixers.

With Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Royal Ivey and Damien Wilkins also unrestricted free agents after this season, the Sixers, depending on what the number is for 2012-13, could have around $15 million of salary cap space this summer to take into free agency.

In practical terms, that means that the Sixers could have their entire starting lineup - Richardson, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen - from Sunday's 104-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns plus sixth-man Spencer Hawes and rookies Arnett Moultrie and Maalik Wayns under contract for 2012-13 plus significant money to attack free agency.

OK, if you want the absolute dream, what if center Dwight Howard, who ended up with the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the four-team trade involving the Sixers, decides he doesn't like Tinseltown and wants to move back East.

The Sixers would have enough salary-cap space to make a competitive offer to bring the best center in the game to South Philly.

If that happens, this whole Bynum heartache would be forgotten.

OK, now back to reality - because the chances of the Lakers letting Howard leave Los Angeles when they can offer him more years and considerably more money than any other team aren't worth mentioning.

They didn't swap Bynum for Howard to come away with neither after one season.

Still, there are some interesting names the Sixers could pursue if Bynum is off the table.

Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith was the player many Sixers fans pined for 4 years ago when the team instead signed Elton Brown. Smith is still just 26 and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Chris Paul can become an unrestricted free agent, as can San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Utah's Al Jefferson.

Of course, having salary-cap space also enhances the chances for sign-and-trades, bringing restricted free agents into the mix.

As DiLeo said, the Sixers' primary and best option is to have Bynum get healthy enough to play during the second half of season; proved that he's durable and then have both sides agree to a long-term deal.

But under the current circumstances, it wasn't a bad thing to hear DiLeo say that the organization has other plans, if needed, to move in another direction.

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood