(This entry is the second in a series of 30 guest columns that will run during October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
There’s absolutely nothing in the NBA worse than mediocrity. It’s a top-heavy league where if you’re not in the top five, the bottom five, or you don’t have a superstar, you’re in a no-man’s land where championships go to die and complacency gives way only to Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette contracts.
Since the 2001 NBA Finals, few teams have been as mediocre as the Philadelphia 76ers.
Keeping the status quo was all that was important under a bored, bottom-line corporate ownership. They gave out contracts to Kenny Thomas, Derrick Coleman (again), Brian Skinner, Willie Green, and more. They traded for a half-dead Chris Webber. They held onto Allen Iverson way too long, and when they finally did move him, they got back Andre Miller and Joe Smith, the former keeping the team just good enough to stay out of the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
They tried to make Andre Iguodala into a franchise player, only vilifying him to the impatient fans when he could not comply offensively. They drafted Evan Turner over Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe, and didn’t even trade Iguodala to let Turner and Jrue Holiday gain on-court chemistry from the get-go. And through it all, they’ve had 7 coaches since Larry Brown left in 2003.
Then, August 2012 happened.
1. Andrew Bynum
Virtually all teams without superstars do not matter in the NBA. They are irrelevant. The 2004 Pistons aren’t coming back. It’s a superstar league and without one, you’re playing Coach Pitch T-Ball and hoping all the kids have fun and don’t get hurt. Trades for superstars are very rare. Trades for young superstars are impossible. But somehow, the Sixers nudged their way into the Dwight Howard trade and managed to come away with the second-best center in the league in 24-year-old Andrew Bynum.
Not a day goes by where I don’t have to actively try to remember the Sixers have Bynum. It’s just such a foreign concept that I won’t actually believe it until he steps on the court against Denver at the end of the month. I’ll be wearing a diaper at that point, just in case.
There’s no doubt in my mind that he will sign a max contract in Philadelphia. The prospect of more money and more guaranteed years than free agency can offer him, combined with proximity to his hometown and – most importantly – the FRANCHISE PLAYER tag that will be stamped on his forehead for years will be far too much for him to pass up. We’re going to see six years of Andrew Bynum in a Sixers jersey. Nuts.
The knee injury is inconvenient, but I’m confident this is more precautionary than anything else. Because for the first time in my lifetime, the Sixers are looking at the big picture. This year doesn’t matter much in terms of wins and losses. It’s Miami’s conference, anyway. What’s more important is Bynum’s health and the development of Turner and Holiday as key cogs in a championship contender for the next 4-5 years. A slow start is to be expected, but who cares? It’s next year that the Sixers can make some major noise in the East, even if it is possible that they finish this season as high as the second seed.
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I would list Bynum as reasons 2 through 5 as well, but for the sake of avoiding redundancy, I’ll scrounge for some other happy things.
2. Cap Flexibility
Before the Sixers got Bynum, the 2012 offseason was shaping up to be a peculiar one. They re-signed Spencer Hawes to a two-year contract after what had to be the most embarrassing display of frontcourt defense in a playoff series against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. Kwame Brown found a home in Philadelphia with the intention of starting next to Hawes. Elton Brand was amnestied so the Sixers could sign Nick Young. Lou Williams was allowed to sign with the Atlanta Hawks. Management assured everyone that Iguodala wasn’t going anywhere. And they went way out in left field to draft Moe Harkless with the 15th pick.
Sixers Nation (all twelve of us) was none too pleased with how things were turning out. Then #1 happened and the offseason didn’t really matter anymore.
But what was completely evident even at the time was how committed ownership was to bringing in guys on team-friendly short term contracts. They had no way of knowing that the Bynum trade would actually go through, but they weren’t simply going to sign mediocre players to long-term deals because they were there. Most teams do that. To what end? Well Josh Harris and the new ownership group decided to bide their time until a bonafide superstar found his way to Philly.
Now that one has, the Sixers have plenty of space to build around him. According to Hoopshype, they have less than $30 million tied up in salary next season. That’s without the team option for Turner, a qualifying offer for Holiday, and a brand spanking new contract for Bynum. But it’s still plenty of room to work with because of guys like Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Hawes, and Brown, who are on short deals.
That’s all on the ownership and I commend them for not signing free agents for the sake of signing them. Hopefully that cap space helps maneuverability in seasons to come.