Sixers should just look ahead to post-Bynum era

Andrew Bynum might have been a big piece to help the Sixers challenge Miami in the East in future seasons, but that won't happen now.       CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Andrew Bynum might have been a big piece to help the Sixers challenge Miami in the East in future seasons, but that won't happen now.       CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: March 18, 2013

I think it's about time to reassess my position on the 76ers and star-crossed center Andrew Bynum - no, not the trade itself, because I thought it was a good one in August, and I'm not going to turn on it, even though it has blown up in the Sixers' faces.

But I have been pointing out the risk of exacerbating the problem. I've looked at what the Sixers gave up to acquire Bynum and said the only chance to recover is for them to risk re-signing him and hope his battered knees can give you 70 games and the playoffs for at least three seasons.

Then I ask myself, "What is the endgame for the Sixers?"

There's no question that if healthy, and that's a $70 million if, Bynum can be a dial changer. A healthy Bynum, combined with All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, hard-working Thaddeus Young and other parts, could move the Sixers out of mediocrity and into the upper tier of the Eastern Conference.

But, again, what was the Sixers' intention in acquiring Bynum? Was it simply to move up a few notches in the hierarchy or was it to legitimately challenge for a NBA title?

I have to believe the latter. You don't give up All-Star Andre Iguodala, promising big man Nik Vucevic, rookie first-round pick Moe Harkless and a future first-round pick for Bynum merely to become a fourth seed in the East.

If you do that, plus alter your roster further by releasing veteran forward Elton Brand through amnesty and letting sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams walk through free agency, your goal better be to lay the framework to be a legitimate championship contender.

Have you seen what the Miami Heat has done lately? Last week, LeBron James & Co. came into the Wells Fargo Center and rolled to their 20th consecutive victory.

Miami has now beaten the Sixers 14 consecutive times.

The Heat is light-years away from the Sixers. But even having a healthy Bynum would only put the Sixers in the same galaxy.

And it will stay like that for a while.

As long as Miami's big three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are together in their prime and healthy, the Sixers cannot challenge them - not with Bynum being the diminishing return he now is.

James, Bosh and Wade are signed through 2013-14 and then all three have player-option years at more than $20 million each for 2014-15 and 2015-16.

It's possible that any or all could leave after next season, but why would they? They will all be paid premium dollars and will have a chance to win up to four more titles before age starts to factor into the equation.

That's what Sixers management must consider when it goes into this offseason and decides what to do with Bynum.

If the Sixers re-signed Bynum, they would do so on the maximum hope that his knees will allow him to play to 60 to 70 games a season and make it through the playoffs.

That's the high side. Bynum will never return to being the player the Sixers believed they had traded for.

Unless he could be that good, his presence wasn't going to be good enough to push the Sixers past the Heat.

So really, what would be the point of the Sixers locking themselves into Bynum and crippling their ability to make any kind of legitimate moves during a period when Miami simply is going to be better than they are, anyway?

That's a high-risk, low-reward scenario. Those are the kind best avoided.

Twice in the last five seasons, the Sixers positioned themselves to do a proper rebuilding, but both times they scrapped the idea in favor of quicker fix.

At the start of the 2008-09 season, they gave the "Philly Max" to Brand, which started the chain reaction of signing Iguodala to a salary-cap-crippling contract.

Partially because of injury, Brand never became the star the Sixers expected, and the team spun in mediocrity.

Before this season, they had the opportunity to amnesty Brand and trade Iguodala for young players or draft picks to start building around Holiday and Evan Turner.

Instead, they went for Bynum, hoping the All-Star center would vault them up the standings.

Now, perhaps the Sixers should just do rebuilding right.

Unlike the other times, they now have an identifiable star in Holiday, the 22-year-old point guard who made his first All-Star team this season.

The fiasco that has been Bynum's missing the entire season will have the advantage of allowing the Sixers to be in the NBA draft lottery and allowing them to keep their first-round pick.

It's not a draft with a lot of slam-dunk prospects, but the Sixers should be able to find a pick with a nice upside.

As far as the money the Sixers will have under the cap by not re-signing Bynum, I'd sit on it unless I can find a sign-and-trade for an early 20-something player with room to grow over the next few seasons.

This isn't a great free-agent class for a team as far away as the Sixers.

Unless it is Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul or Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard - and don't kid yourselves, neither is coming to the Sixers - this is not a group on which you want to max out your salary-cap space.

After the 2013-14 season, the Sixers will locked into only "big-dollar contracts" of Holiday ($11 million) and Thad Young ($9.2 million).

By 2014-15, which is only two seasons away, the Sixers hope Holiday, who will have just turned 24, is a perennial All-Start; Young, who will be 26, is even more solid and the 2013 lottery pick will be a strong enough to complete a nucleus that could form a championship-caliber team.

By 2014-15, Bynum's deteriorating knees will likely have him applying for disability benefits.

The Sixers traded for Bynum to compete with the Heat. Since that's not going to happen, there's no point in taking the risk to keep him around.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: Philly.com/JohnSmallwood

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