NBA Basketball Column: Jump Ball with Matt McCloskey
A Bad Beat
The Philadelphia 76ers took a huge gamble giving up Andre Iguodala and promising center Nikola Vucevic for the chance that Andrew Bynum could become their franchise player. So far, that gamble has been an unmitigated disaster.
The addition of Bynum to a core of point guard Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Younge and the support of Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Spencer Hawes would of made the Sixers a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference, especially with Holiday having a career year without having to share the ball with departed playmaker's Iguodala and Lou Williams.
Last season, Bynum finally started getting people on his side. He played 60 out of a possible 66 games and put up stellar averages of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and he shot 56% from the field. Going into the final year of his contract this season, he would have easily been offered max contracts from dozens of teams. But now he will have to hope and pray for someone to be really desperate for a center in order to cash in this summer. Statistically he is worth the money, but his health and his attitude at times do not come close to being worth that type of investment. Instead of being careful and rehabbing his knee properly so he could get back onto the court, he went bowling and made it worst, making it a real possibility he won't play at all this season. If Bynum can't suit up and contribute to the teams attempt at gaining a playoff berth and then winning some games in the post-season, this will be the worst move the Sixers have ever done.
Not only did it come at the cost of one of their best players and fan favorite, Andre Iguodala, it came at the cost of a promising young center Nikola Vucevic. The sophomore hasn't suffered the dreaded sophomore jinx at all. He has averaged 9.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13 games (all of them starts) in the early going this season. He has become a key piece for the Magic moving forward, and is definitely the best piece the Magic obtained in return for star center Dwight Howard. While the return for Howard was awfully weak, at least the 22 year old Swiss is on track to be an above average center in the NBA.
Despite the absence of their prized off-season acquisition, the Sixers are 8-6, good for seventh in the conference. Spencer Hawes has been a solid starting center in the past but he has had nagging injuries this season that have hindered his play, and he has only been contributing 20 minutes a night off the bench. The Sixers success without Bynum will come at the hands of playing small with Thaddeus Younge at the power forward spot and a mix of Nick Young, Evan Turner, Jason Richardson and Dorrell Wright manning the small forward and shooting guard spot. After getting off to a rough start, the Sixers have rattled off four wins in their last six games. This is a playoff calibre team with good talent but they NEED the presence of Bynum or another star big in order to take that next step as Eastern Contenders.
The Sixers may decide to cut ties with Bynum at the end of the season if his contract demands are a max deal. Based on his track record, his $16.48 million salary is a vast over payment, and there's no way on earth the man deserves a raise. However the Sixers may feel forced to caving and meeting his demands so they can save face to the fans of Philadelphia. It's a tough spot, talent like Bynum's doesn't come along very often, so if the Sixers can get Bynum to take a two year deal at around $30 million, making Bynum have to earn his status as a max player back after setting his team back like this, then they should jump all over it. But sometimes the best thing to do is to cut loose from a bad situation/ investment and find solutions elsewhere. The funny thing is that ownership is paying $33 million to two players that won’t play for them this season in Bynum and Elton Brand who was amnestied in the summer time.
Some possible names that the Sixers can look at are Al Jefferson, Chris Kaman and Josh Smith, or take another gamble like this past off-season on someone going into a contract year such as Marcin Gortat, Andrew Bogut, and Emeka Okafor. The draft is also full of bigs this summer, so acquiring a top 10 pick to draft one of the many talented power forwards or centers available is another option.
What the Sixers do this season and in the upcoming season will determine the foreseeable future for them, whether that future will involve Bynum becomes less and less of a reality with each passing day. Was it a gamble worth taking? Early consensus is “HELL NO!”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The starting center for the Hornets has been solid all season but has recently strung together four strong fantasy performances in a row, averaging 13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and a steal, providing a solid boost of the bench for any fantasy team in any format. He doesn't have much competition for time in the middle, so he is a viable option to have on the bench, especially when rookie Anthony Davis is out. His biggest strength is his shot blocking, but unfortunately he has been plagued with inconsistency in the rest of his game early on his career. He doesn't have the skill of his twin Brook Lopez from the Brooklyn Nets, but he is still an average center in this league.
He can most certainly score the ball, but his value will only hold while Kyrie Irving is injured. Until he can improve upon his playmaking skills he will never be able hold onto a starting gig, but he fulfills a scoring need for the short term. He can knock down three’s and has at times had solid assist totals, making him a solid sub on nights where your starters aren’t playing. He is raking in a lot of playing time right now and the team doesn’t have a go-to guy so his opportunity is perfect until Irving’s finger heals.
The other twin on this list, he’s a solid scorer and is capable of having excellent rebounding nights. Now he’s getting starts which hopefully leads to more consistent production. Of the players on the waiver wire he might be one of the players that have any long lasting value. Keep him as a reserve and watch him develop as you reap the benefits.
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