A Forlorn Farewell to Andrew Bynum from a Tormented Philadelphia 76ers Fan

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2013

Will the Andrew Bynum trade come back to haunt the 76ers? It's still too early to say.
Will the Andrew Bynum trade come back to haunt the 76ers? It's still too early to say.Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Andrew Bynum in August 2012, I described the trade as "grand larceny" for the Sixers.

One year later, it's harrowing to admit just how wrong I was.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers nearing completion of a two-year, $24 million contract for Bynum (with only $6 million in guaranteed money), according to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, the Bynum era in Philadelphia is over before it ever really started.

How best to sum up the Bynum-Sixers marriage? His introductory press conference was legitimately the highlight of his time in Philadelphia.

Before he heads off to the city of legendary tourism videos, I thought it right to reflect back upon the failed experiment that was Andrew Bynum and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Looking back on it now, it's easy to remember why the Bynum trade generated such optimism from Sixers fans.

It had been more than a half-decade since the Sixers had a legitimate superstar on the roster. The Elton Brand free-agent signing of 2008 never quite panned out as expected, subjecting the franchise to yet another five-course meal of mediocrity.

Bynum was expected to change everything in Philadelphia. He was coming off the best season of his career, having averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12.

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In short, he looked to be threatening Dwight Howard for the "best center in the NBA" crown.

Adding the big man to a Sixers team that was one game away from the Eastern Conference finals in 2012 positioned the franchise to be one of the conference's top threats to the Miami Heat.

As we know now, that vision never quite came to fruition. 

The red flags with Bynum were clear from the start.

In his seven years with the Lakers, he played only one full 82-game season. Starting with a dislocated kneecap in January 2008, injuries to both of the big man's knees grew increasingly problematic over the next few seasons.  

Questions about his attitude and his commitment to basketball also flared up occasionally during his time in Los Angeles. Bynum and Lakers coach Mike Brown notably clashed during the 2011-12 season after Brown benched him for attempting a three-pointer early in the shot clock in a game against the Golden State Warriors.

"I didn't feel like he was playing the right way," Brown told Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears. "I didn't feel like we were playing the right way as a club when he was on the floor. That’s why I took him out the game."

To address his ongoing knee issues, Bynum travelled to Germany in September 2012 to undergo Orthokine therapy, upon Kobe Bryant's recommendation. Bryant underwent the procedure the year before and reportedly felt years younger as a result.

Suffice it to say, the procedure didn't have the same effect on Bynum.

After returning from Germany, a bone bruise in Bynum's right knee kept him out of training camp and the 2012 preseason. Things only grew worse from there.

In November, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Chris Broussard reported that Bynum possibly did additional damage to his knees while bowling, which Bynum himself later confirmed.

As his original mid-December return date approached, the Sixers announced that Bynum would be out "indefinitely," raising doubts about whether he'd ever appear in a 76ers uniform.

He never did. After experiencing swelling in his right knee following a five-on-five scrimmage in February, the Sixers eventually decided to shut Bynum down for the season.

Now, he's Cleveland's problem.

To acquire Bynum, the Sixers had to give up All-Star Andre Iguodala, two promising young players in Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and a future first-round draft pick.

That's a bitter pill for the Sixers front office to swallow, considering Bynum never ended up playing a single minute for the team.

It's easy to look back now and call the trade a complete and total bust for the Sixers. Harkless and Vucevic both showed flashes of incredible potential during their first season with the Orlando Magic, while Iguodala helped the Denver Nuggets lock up the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

But one year after the four-team Dwight Howard megatrade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia, the Orlando Magic appear to be the unquestioned winner. And who in their right mind saw that coming? (No one, that's who.)

The rush to judgment on said megatrade should serve as a lesson to anyone ready to label the Sixers' acquisition of Bynum a franchise-defining mistake.

Had Bynum made it through the 2012-13 season perfectly healthy, what would have happened?

The Sixers likely would have qualified for the playoffs, putting any thoughts of rebuilding out of reach. They'd be pot-committed, as they say in poker, to re-signing Bynum to a long-term, large-money contract, injury history be damned.

Doug Collins would still likely be coaching this Sixers squad, putting an end to his history of never lasting more than three seasons with any one team. Given his proclivity to playing rookies sparingly, that would have only stunted the growth of the team's young players.

And instead of Sam Hinkie's scorched earth tactics for building a championship contender, there's a strong chance Tony DiLeo would have remained the general manager.

What's the ceiling for that team? A second-round playoff knockout? The conference finals, maybe?

The Sixers wouldn't be trapped in the purgatory of mediocrity, but they wouldn't be much better off. They'd be capped out, yet still wouldn't stand a real chance against the Heat or the Indiana Pacers, much less whichever team survived the meat grinder that is the Western Conference playoffs.

Granted, there's no guarantee the Sixers' current path is a better alternative.

Who could possibly know what will come of Hinkie's draft-night trade of Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a top-five protected 2014 first-round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans?

Noel could prove just as injury-prone as Bynum. The Pelicans could unexpectedly qualify for the 2014 playoffs, leaving the Sixers with a mid-first-round draft pick instead of a selection in the Nos. 6-10 range.

It's too early to say what will come of the Sixers' new path. That's why it's also too early to make a final, definitive conclusion about the Bynum trade.

Here's what we do know:

The Bynum trade was a smart risk that, on the surface, failed miserably.

The Noel-for-Holiday trade is another smart risk that could blow up in the team's face.

In today's NBA, those are the type of gambles you have to take to build a championship contender.

And thus, Sixers fans shouldn't begrudge Bynum for his litany of knee problems during his one year in Philadelphia. The DiLeo-Collins duo could otherwise still be in charge.

Instead, while lamenting the fact that he never played a game for the Sixers, wish Bynum well on his next adventure with Cleveland.

After all, the improvement of any 2013 lottery team only helps the Sixers' 2014 lottery prospects. And, moving forward, isn't that what's most important?  

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