Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum Was Worth the Risk, Regardless of His Health

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2012

Oct 01, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum (33) is interviewed during media day at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

When the Philadelphia 76ers traded away their best player (Andre Iguodala) and a few young pieces for Andrew Bynum in the summer of 2012, the team knew what it was getting into.

When healthy, Bynum has the potential to be the most dominant center in the Eastern Conference.

Dwight Howard moved to the Los Angeles Lakers in the same trade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia, and there's no other player who can match Bynum's size, strength and physicality.

Unfortunately, "when healthy" has been a gigantic question mark over the course of Bynum's seven-year career, and things haven't started well in that regards in his eighth season, either.

A week into the 2012-13 season, Bynum has yet to practice or play a game with the team, as he continues to recover from a bone bruise on his right knee. He flew to Germany in September for an unrelated knee procedure, causing him to miss most of the preseason for recovery.

Regardless of how many games Bynum plays this season, it's important not to lose sight of one simple thing: The Sixers had to pull the trigger on the trade, despite his lengthy history of injuries.

The negatives are undeniable: In seven career years, Bynum has only played in a full 82-game season once.

He's had surgery on both knees within the past five years (the left in 2008, the right in 2009 and 2010), and has now started his career on the bench for the Sixers with another knee ailment.

Seven-foot, 280-pound men tend to have more knee troubles than your Average Joe, given the amount of weight and pressure being applied with each step.

It's not inconceivable that Bynum's knee problems will remain chronic over the rest of his career, limiting his otherwise boundless potential.

If the Sixers had Bynum signed to a long-term contract, this would all be much more of a concern. For now, the franchise gets a year to sit back and evaluate whether Bynum (and his knees) are worth a five-year maximum contract worth nearly $100 million in the summer of 2013.

While Bynum's health record hasn't been ideal, he did manage to play in 60 of the 66 games for the Lakers in the 2011-12 season, averaging a career-high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds en route to his first All-Star game appearance.

Again, the talent is there when he's healthy. It's just a matter of how healthy Bynum can stay, both in 2012-13 and in the long term.

Either way, the Sixers made the right move trading for him. Iguodala will always be underrated in Philadelphia and he's one of the top wing defenders in the league, but his $15 million-plus salary made him nothing but a target back with the 76ers.

Potential franchise centers don't become available on the trade market every day, and the Sixers had to leap when they did for their chance at a superstar.

Since the end of the first Allen Iverson era in Philadelphia, the Sixers have been a 35- to 40-win mediocre mess of a team, a first-round playoff knockout waiting to happen (that's happened three times since 2007-08).

Had Derrick Rose not torn his ACL in Game 1 of the first round of the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs, it's very likely that the No. 1 seeded Bulls would have trounced the Sixers there, too.

Instead, Rose tore his ACL, the Sixers made a miracle run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics, but couldn't finish out the final four minutes of the fourth quarter against the more experienced Boston squad.

Now, with Bynum, the Sixers have a weapon on both ends of the court that few others team can match. That's something they've lacked in the past few seasons.

An "NBA coach who's studied the Sixers" told's Brian Windhorst that Bynum will allow the Sixers to have a "two-quarterback system," where they'll "feature him and play half-court when he's in the game, and then switch back to playing quicker when he's out. There aren't a lot of teams who have the ability to play that way."

That's a player worth gambling on.

Worst-case scenario, Bynum's knees prove problematic all season and the Sixers' medical staff expresses hesitation at offering him a long-term guaranteed contract.

While the Sixers gave up a good deal to acquire Bynum, they aren't required to offer him a max guaranteed deal if they truly believe his knees can't hold up.

And for the record, what would have happened had they held onto Iguodala? He likely would have opted into his player option in 2013-14, but it's highly unlikely that he'd be re-signing in Philadelphia during the summer of 2014.

Either the Sixers re-sign Bynum in the summer of 2013 and pray his knees hold up for the long term, or start building around point guard Jrue Holiday, who recently signed a four-year, $41 million deal.

No matter which path the Sixers choose, it's an improvement on the never-ending stream of mediocrity the team was previously stuck in.