Inside the Sixers: Once Andrew Bynum plays, grading the 76ers on their blockbuster trade can begin

Andre Iguodala's play with Denver this season hasn't been much different from what it was with the 76ers in 2011-12. DUANE BURLESON / AP
Andre Iguodala's play with Denver this season hasn't been much different from what it was with the 76ers in 2011-12. DUANE BURLESON / AP
Posted: December 16, 2012

At some point Thursday, David Altchek will look Andrew Bynum directly in the eyes, and the doctor will relay either good or bad news concerning the 76ers center's chronically aching knees. (Or, as Bynum now says, knee, as he has proclaimed the right one pain-free.)

Cognizant that there have been too many false starts and false reports, the Sixers expect that, some seven months after Bynum last played a game in the NBA, they will finally know whether or not the 7-footer is actually on the road to recovery.

Bynum will unquestionably play for the Sixers this season, I'm told by a very reliable source. And even if he plays just 30 games for them and never again - he's an unrestricted free agent this summer - the Sixers will come out of this deal with a brighter future than if they had never initiated the talks with Orlando that originally targeted Dwight Howard and got the ball rolling on the massive, 12-player, four-team trade of last August.

Jrue Holiday clearly has a significantly higher ceiling than any other player on last season's roster, and Thaddeus Young, despite having to body up against men 30 pounds heavier than he is because of the team's deficiency at center, is clearly better. Ditto Evan Turner.

Substantial cap space will be available to the Sixers this summer. And even though they still have a rinky-dink practice facility that former players have ridiculed on Twitter, they should be able to attract a free agent that will make the core group better than anything seen around these parts since Allen Iverson's better teams.

In fact, if Bynum's knees are indeed shot - and it one day comes out that the Sixers made the deal knowing this because they just wanted to cut ties with Andre Iguodala and the more than $30 million he was owed at the end of the last season - making the trade was still the right thing for the Sixers to do.

Look how this is working out for the Lakers: These days it's news if the once-marquee organization struggles to a road win over the Washington Wizards. Kobe Bryant is talking about retiring, and when he does what has made him one the five best players ever - scoring in bunches - the Lakers usually lose and he bickers with Howard.

Speaking of Howard, he will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and there has been no commitment from him to return to the Lakers. If it doesn't work out this season (new coach Mike D'Antoni has brought to L.A. his almost unparalleled ability to turn good defenders into sieves), the Lakers in two years could be transformed into a trial horse of a franchise as the curtain comes down on Bryant's marvelous career.

The Sixers' involvement in the Howard deal cost them their first choice in each of the last two drafts: Nik Vucevic (2011) and Maurice Harkless (2012). It also cost them a protected first-round pick. We're finding out that the 7-foot Vucevic, when given significant minutes - at least on a team with virtually no expectations - can play. Vucevic, who became less and less of a factor here as his rookie season progressed, is close to averaging a double-double (9.7 points, 9.1 rebounds) through Friday for the Magic, whom he has either led or tied for the lead in rebounding a team-high 13 times in their first 23 games.

Harkless, 19, has not been impressive for the Magic, but he is starting. And it was Harkless, who left St. John's after his freshman season, who was the deal-breaker for Orlando.

Aaron Afflalo, acquired from Denver, leads the Magic in scoring this season (16.0). Orlando also walked away with three first-round draft picks.

Iguodala was the only player acquired by Denver in the trade, and this season he looks pretty much the same as he did last season. He is averaging more points (13.9 compared with 12.4 last season) despite a dip in his field-goal percentage (45.4 last season to 43.3). In a surprise, Iguodala has not impacted Denver's defense, which is giving up 100.7 points a game (25th in the league through Friday).

Denver, however, does have young quality players such as Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee, who should be able to grow together.

It always takes time to see which teams made out best in a deal of this magnitude, and the grades on all of them will remain incomplete for some time. The Sixers, their grade the most incomplete of them all, hope that with Bynum's latest evaluation they can at least begin the process of taking the test.


Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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