Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers' tireless efforts culminated in the blockbuster four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to L.A., Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson to Philadelphia and Andre Iguodala to Denver, among others.
Howard’s addition solidifies the Lakers as the early favorite in the Western Conference and the preeminent contender to take on the Miami Heat. But what impact does Bynum’s arrival have on his new team, the Philadelphia 76ers, a franchise which has spent the past decade trapped in mediocrity, highlighted by multiple first-round exits and ineffective mid-round draft picks?
The 24-year-old big man has certainly traveled leaps and bounds since his NBA debut at the mere age of 18. Bynum’s rookie season was one of struggle and adjustment, as he played seven minutes per game, averaging 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds a game, a virtual non-factor on the court.
Last season, Bynum cemented himself as the league’s second-best center, and arguably the league’s top offensive seven-footer, proving himself as a dominant post threat as well as a solid defensive presence. Bynum made an impression on the Sixers last season with a 20-20 game and a dominant 30-rebound game. Overall, Bynum posted career numbers playing in 60 of a possible 66 games, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
When Bynum steps on the hardwood in a Sixers uniform, he will immediately become the best player to grace the uniform since Allen Iverson. The franchise brought in Elton Brand and signed Iguodala to a lucrative deal a few years ago, hoping they would transition the team to a new era of prosperity.
By no reasonable measure is Bynum a top-10 player, but he’s likely among the league’s top 20, he's clearly a cut above anybody on last season’s Sixers roster and he's now definitively the best center in the Eastern Conference.
Simply put, if he plays to his potential, he will improve the team.
But where do the Sixers fit in the East’s hierarchical structure? The Heat undoubtedly stand as the league’s top team, but after that the conference is wide open. The Chicago Bulls’ future lies in uncertainty as Derek Rose will likely miss a large portion of the season. The Boston Celtics have made solid moves with the additions of Jason Terry and Jared Sullinger, but year after year their core of Rondo, Pierce and Garnett has proven too little.
And after the trade, the Orlando Magic find themselves with a depleted roster as they head for a season of irrelevancy. The Magic did not net one impact player, and they appear to have entered into a multiyear rebuilding stage.
The Sixers find themselves in a battle with the Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics and Rose-less Bulls for the second spot in the Eastern Conference.
But Bynum does come with some baggage and a few question marks. For one, he is in the final deal of a contract, and if Bynum sees no future in a 76ers uniform, he will revert to the immature and unmotivated Bynum.
The Sixers do have a decent chance at re-signing Bynum; he’s from Plainsboro, N.J. and with the Sixers, he would be the franchise cornerstone, a prospect which has had great appeal to Bynum. The Sixers can also offer Bynum one extra year. If Bynum chooses to play elsewhere, his $16.8 million expiring contract will leave the Sixers with an abundant amount of salary cap room.
Bynum has also been injury prone in the past. Now, he just came off of a very healthy season in which he played in 60 out of a possible 66 games, but he has yet to play in over 65 games in a season, and he's played in only 392 out of a possible 574 games, missing about a third of his career. The Sixers hope Bynum’s injury-laden past is behind him, and that the 24-year-old has fully grown into a healthy NBA body.
The Sixers certainly gave up a hefty package to acquire Bynum, parting ways with Andre Iguodala, 2011 first-rounder Nikola Vucevic, 2012 first-rounder Moe Harkless and a 2015 first-round pick. But if Bynum stays healthy, signs for the long term and lives up to his potential, the Sixers can rise to contention in the Eastern Conference.