The Sixers and the long shadow of Andrew Bynum

Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum
Posted: May 20, 2013

No NBA general manager who wants to get his roster from Point A to Point B ever begins that process by trying to construct a four-team trade.

Simple is best and that is certainly what Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was shooting for last summer when Dwight Howard made it clear he would be leaving the Orlando Magic for the Lakers and only the Lakers and you guys in the suits figure out how that's going to happen.

The true superstars of the game can dictate their paths that way, using the blackmail of their impending unhappiness as leverage. There isn't anything different in what Howard did to Orlando than what LeBron James did to Cleveland. Howard was just smart enough to do it without the television show.

It was clear from the start that Andrew Bynum would be the major piece given up by the Lakers in whatever trade worked out. He and Howard play the same position and commanded similar salaries. Bynum wasn't as advanced as Howard, perhaps, but he was 24 years old and coming off a season in which he played 60 of the 62 games for which he was eligible and averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds. He was a bit of a flake and the Lakers had tired somewhat of that flakiness, but plenty of teams around the league would be eager for the opportunity to grow tired of him as well.

The Orlando Magic, however, were not among them.

Rob Hennigan, then the brand-new Magic general manager, said publicly that he did not trust Bynum's knees and was not going to bet his entire rebuilding plan on the proposition that the big man would be healthy. He preferred undamaged prospects and draft picks and - well, Mitch, get to work.

The ungainly trade that Kupchak eventually devised for the sole purpose of getting Dwight Howard in a purple and gold uniform ended up with four teams that appeared pretty happy with what they got, and none outwardly happier than the 76ers, who came away with the prize of Andrew Bynum.

And here we are.

"I don't think there's anything else to be said about the trade except the way people think about it in hindsight," new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie said last week.

Hinkie, like all other NBA executives, took a good look at what was going down last summer from his Houston Rockets office and, along with general manager Daryl Morey, tried to figure out if there was anything there for them.

"We were involved in those discussions as well," Hinkie said. "Any time there is a young, difference-making player on the market, it's every general manager's duty to be involved and try to understand what the market-clearing price might be and who are the most likely partners to partner with that team to make the trade."

The bottom line is that the Rockets either passed or were passed over. It matters only in hindsight, as Hinkie suggested, whether they were smart or they were lucky, and, by comparison, whether the Sixers were dupes or merely unlucky. There's nothing else to say, because, either way, the outcome is the same.

"When I look at it after the fact, one of the things I like . . . was Josh standing up and saying that is a decision I would do again," Hinkie said, referring to Sixers owner Josh Harris. "That is very, very, very important to me. We talk a lot about process, not outcome, and about trying to consistently take all the best information you can and make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't."

Hinkie has a lot of decisions to make right now and a massive task in front of him. He was deeply involved when the Sixers were looking for a new general manager last season and went a long way down the road with Harris. It didn't happen then, largely because any GM working with Doug Collins - even a very bright one who shared the owner's devout analytical bent - would still be an assistant. So the Sixers had to settle for a placeholder instead while the Bynum trade played out.

Make no mistake. Hinkie studied the Sixers then and continued to do so for the last nine months with much more than casual interest. He knows exactly the situation at hand. He knows the team does not have a difference-maker on the roster and, regardless of the strides he can make identifying and acquiring undervalued role players and complementary pieces, without that singular dominating instrument the team will never compete for a championship.

And the wheel spins, and hindsight gives way to foresight, and there stands Andrew Bynum, now 25 years old and still 7 feet tall every morning when he gets out of bed.

"The situation that the franchise is in right now, after a well-documented big trade that didn't end in a way that people are comfortable with . . . [is that] now you really have to face yourself in the mirror every day and look at the reality of what's here and the reality of what can be," Hinkie said.

The reality ain't pretty. It would be a lot prettier, as would have been the case last season, with a healthy Bynum. He will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, but he is their unrestricted free agent, which means they can negotiate with him exclusively until that date and, if it came to that, would have greater ability to exceed the salary cap to retain him than any other team in the league.

Hinkie said he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to find out soon just how fearless he is.

"The Sixers should have an enormous information advantage," Hinkie said, when asked about the idea of considering a new contract offer to Bynum.

They do. The organization knows that Bynum did not leave himself enough recovery time from the Orthokine treatments he received in Germany in September and that the snowball of his knee problems may have begun to roll right there and was entirely traceable to that mistake. (Which was made at the urging of his agent, with whom the organization isn't that pleased, either.)

The real question, though, since we're talking about process, is how does the organization process that and the other aspects of its information advantage regarding Bynum? It would seem to be the smart play, particularly for a new general manager with a clean slate and lots of time, to walk away briskly from the accident scene. But, man, there is an awfully good-looking car in there.

Hinkie is thinking, or has already thought, about all of that. Even as he studies the talent available for the draft, and the free agent market, and the trade market, and the list of coaching candidates, he is still thinking about it, still carefully analyzing the risk and the potential reward, because that is what he does.

It probably won't happen. It probably shouldn't. But it still remains the handiest way out of jail.

Hinkie likes an owner who is willing to take ownership of the failures as well as the successes that come with tough decisions. Imagine how interesting it would be if he asked Josh Harris, the man who said he would take the same chance on Bynum again, to actually do so.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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