By Rob Mahoney
The 76ers made a good, sensible deal in essentially trading Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless for budding star center Andrew Bynum, but even good, sensible deals are subject to twists of fate.
Since making that deal over the summer, the Sixers have yet to see Bynum on the court for a single game, and, according to John Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer (as confirmed by Jason Wolf of USA Today), their prized acquisition -- who is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season -- could soon undergo an arthroscopic surgery that would eliminate any chance that he might play this season. That means that Philadelphia's gamble will end in one of two ways:
- With the Sixers committing long term to a player who has undergone two knee surgeries and played no games in roughly a year.
- With the Sixers having traded a talented all-around player and three young assets (including a protected first-round pick) while getting nothing in return.
It's a tough situation, and the outcome will undoubtedly come down to Bynum's target contract and the scary possibilities involved in a player this good and this injury-prone hitting the open market. Some team or another is virtually guaranteed to take a chance on Bynum, as his potential is great enough for many franchises to justify accepting a significant risk. Comments in Wolf's report from general manager Tony DiLeo suggest that the Sixers are still very much interested in retaining Bynum beyond this year, but DiLeo admits that there's no way to take a definitive stance at present given how little is known about Bynum's current value:
"We haven't seen him out on the court," DiLeo said, "so we don't have all the answers, and hopefully we'll get some answers. It's always been our goal to see him healthy, out on the court with us. So far we haven't been able to see that."
The Sixers would have enough room to sign other quality players should they opt to forfeit Bynum's Bird Rights and cap hold, but Bynum remains a terrific talent at a clear position of need. He'd be a nice fit alongside the other solidified members of the Sixers' core, and has flashed the kind of talent necessary to function as a team's best offensive player. That's an alluring combination -- so alluring, in fact, that it could wind up being Philadelphia's undoing. The Sixers obviously have a vested interest in signing Bynum. They gave up a considerable amount to acquire Bynum in the first place, and the motivation to validate that investment -- the process of trading for Bynum, his rehabilitation, his time with team personnel and the long wait for his return -- could urge Philadelphia to keep him around. If not, he'll surely find a home. Players this productive don't tend to go unclaimed, though Bynum may have to consider a short-term deal in order to persuade a team to sign him. That, too, could put Philadelphia in a bad negotiating position; the one thing the Sixers have working in their favor above all else is that they can offer Bynum more money than any other suitor. This entire episode puts Philadelphia directly at the center of a tricky situation. Bynum's decision looms as one of the tidal elements of the 2013 offseason.