Just deserts for Andrew Bynum

Posted: November 10, 2013

The boos were predictable, and they were as loud and long as you'd expect, and they began with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first quarter - the instant Andrew Bynum lifted all 7 feet and 285 pounds of himself off his chair along the Cleveland Cavaliers' sideline and made for the scorer's table.

The boos were cathartic, because Andrew Bynum was supposed to have been some kind of savior last season for the Sixers.

Andrew Bynum, acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in a thunderclap trade involving four teams. Andrew Bynum, whom the Sixers had billed as their greatest low-post player since Moses Malone, the vessel to carry them back to the top of the Eastern Conference. Andrew Bynum, who was paid $16.9 million but did not suit up in a single game for the Sixers, who talked a lot about wanting to play but never felt sturdy enough on his knees to do so.

Andrew Bynum, who loved bowling.

The boos were understandable, because over his year's stay in Philadelphia, Bynum didn't always give off the impression that getting himself ready to play basketball was his highest priority.

He became the Jennifer Aniston of the NBA, earning more attention for his haircuts than for the quality of his work. He answered questions about his health with a kind of vapid distance, often contradicting himself, giving people hope that he'd play before snuffing out that hope in the next sentence. And, of course, with a bone bruise on his right knee already hampering him, he injured his left knee while bowling - a freak incident that nevertheless cultivated the perception that Bynum wasn't rehabilitating with the requisite diligence.

More than anything, though, the booing was based on expectations that the Sixers themselves had created for Bynum - not these Sixers, but last year's. Rod Thorn and Doug Collins had sold the trade as the move to make the Sixers contenders again, and CEO Adam Aron was happy to take credit for that silly celebratory news conference to introduce Bynum, as if a championship were a fait accompli now that the Sixers had a center with bad knees.

Instead, they won 34 games, and the true meaning of the trade has made itself manifest only in the aftermath of the departures of Thorn, Collins, and Aron. The Sixers didn't reload by acquiring Bynum. They were already in the midst of rebuilding when they acquired him.

That offseason, they said goodbye to Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Elton Brand, and Nikola Vucevic - a combined $37.4 million worth of salary in 2011-12. Unless it's getting LeBron James and Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, a team with that much turnover shouldn't expect to be a contender. It should expect to take a step backward.

The Sixers did, and because Bynum's salary is no longer on the books, the franchise is better positioned to build a team that can sustain success. Suppose, at the time of the trade, the Sixers had told everyone this:

We're getting Andrew Bynum, and if he's healthy, he's a cornerstone player. But he's not healthy right now, and he may not be this season. And that's OK, because his contract is about to expire, and once it does, we'll have more freedom to be creative.

It might have stirred an unpleasant reaction from the fan base, but it would have been smart business.

It also might have saved Bynum from a few boos Friday, though the reception he received didn't seem to bother him much.

He smiled when he took the floor, and he finished with four points and five rebounds in 18 minutes, moving up and down the court like an older man.

The Sixers' in-game entertainment crew showed him on the "Kiss Cam" beside one of his teammates, and the fans chanted "Bynum sucks" and "Let's go bowling," and the Sixers won, 94-79.

But it was a moment before Friday's game that said everything about Andrew Bynum's tenure in Philadelphia.

He was sitting in the Wells Fargo Center's visiting locker room, staring at a television showing game film of the Sixers, a pair of doughnut-sized headphones covering his ears and playing a hip-hop song. You could hear the music from across the room, and Andrew Bynum bopped his head to the beat.

Even when he was here, he was somewhere else.


msielski@philly.com

@MikeSielski

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