The Philadelphia 76ers Were Right To Trade For Andrew Bynum

A couple of weeks ago on The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show, I expressed my disdain for all things Andrew Bynum. The annoyance around Bynum and his sideshow, as opposed to Andrew Bynum the basketball player, had reached its tipping point, to the point where our own Justin Tinsley, on behalf of the African-American community, gave me permission to utter a racial epithet at the Philadelphia 76ers' newest star center that isn't.

I politely declined to accept the offer since I'm not really into degrading racial slurs, but I made it abundantly clear that I had no desire to hear any more on the Andrew Bynum front until his got his bum ass out on the basketball court for a real, live basketball game. All this talk of his hair, his workouts, his knee, his bowling, his everything and anything except actual basketball was being discussed ad nauseam.

Then, more recently, the narrative changed. It went from "when is Andrew Bynum gonna fix his hair" to "is this the worst trade of all time?" Let me unequivocally, permanently state that the Philadelphia 76ers were 100 percent right to trade for Andrew Bynum. Even with everything I know now, even with everything that has (or has not) gone down, I'd make this trade 100 times out of 100 all over again. And so would the 76ers, no matter what anyone else would tell you.

Why? Because in Andrew Bynum, the Sixers took a gamble on a true franchise-changer, the type of player that can instantly turn a team from an also-ran to a contender. When he was healthy — which admittedly wasn't often — Bynum displayed the type of center play no one else in the entire NBA today has, including Dwight Howard. Healthy Andrew Bynum is a force both offensively and defensively, with tremendous footwork, post moves and paint presence. Simply put, he's a game-changer.

The Sixers haven't had one of those since Allen Iverson version 1.0, and they haven't had a center in that ilk since Moses Malone first came to town. For all this talk about the Sixers giving up "four first-round draft picks" in the four-team trade, not a single one of those picks as of yet can even remotely be considered a franchise-changing asset. Andre Iguodala is a terrific defender, one of the very best in the entire league. He's also an intelligent player who can do a little bit of everything on the court. What he can't do is carry a franchise and make it a contender. We know that unequivocally after watching fail to live up to the big man on campus standard set by the A.I. before him in Philadelphia.

Maurice Harkless very well may turn into a quality NBA player, but as a rookie, he's a bench player averaging just over 20 minutes a night for a putrid Orlando Magic team, and while his teammate Nikola Vucevic is among the top five rebounders in the league and a true double-double threat every night (who also has dominated his former team this season), he's hardly the type of guy who can carry a squad. So yeah, the Sixers gave away "four first-round picks" (the other being a protected first-round pick), but they didn't give up a single player who could impact their franchise the way Bynum potentially could.

Further, the Sixers have been locked in a sort of basketball purgatory ever since that magical run to the Finals in the 2000-01 season. They went from the Eastern Conference champions to a team that had to claw and scratch its way to the postseason as a 6, 7 or 8 seed. In the NBA, that's a worse fate than the hell of a lost season, because it means there are no ping pong balls there to potentially save you. You get stuck with the mid-round picks, the guys who every now and then yet very rarely become the franchise cornerstones to build around.

While they've had some success in getting quality players like Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, the only one you can call even a potential star to build around is current all-star Jrue Holiday, who cannot even be considered among the elite point guards as of yet.

If the Sixers really wanted to get out of the spiral of mediocrity, they had to make this deal. They had to try and get a true franchise difference-maker. And that's exactly what they did. It just hasn't panned out as planned as of yet … but it has at least moved the course of the franchise.

It was a point Charles Barkley actually made during halftime of the Sixers-Celtics match-up a last week on TNT. He said it's not like the Sixers broke up a great team to get Bynum. They were an 8 seed just last year, a team that faded after a hot start. They traded some good players, but no one that was helping them be anything more than 6, 7, 8 seed at best, yet people are acting like they gave up a championship core by trading Iguodala and letting Lou Williams and Elton Brand walk. It was the most logical thing I've heard anyone, anywhere say about the Bynum deal to date.

Of course, this is Charles Barkley we're talking about, so he followed it up by saying something patently insane. To be specific, he said he'd rather pay Greg Oden than Andrew Bynum at this point. But hey, that's Chuck.

Without Bynum, the Sixers are a terrible basketball team coached by a short-sighted, insane coach — which is exactly what they needed in a weird way if they weren't going to take the next step up the contender ladder. It's better to bottom out and try to land that savior or saviors in the draft and go from there, the way the Thunder did and the way the Clippers did — one by drafting two superstars (Westbrook and Durant), the other by drafting one superstar and trading for another (Blake Griffin and Chris Paul). You don't get to the next level in the NBA unless you have at least one superstar, and you probably don't become a real contender until you have two or more, or at least a couple all-stars around the superstar. That's just the way this thing works. And no matter what your feelings are for the players involved, Andrew Bynum has superstar potential, while the pieces the Sixers traded away do not — even that protected draft pick is a complete unknown.

The Sixers were absolutely right to make this gamble. The Iguodala/Lou Williams/ Elton Brand nucleus had run its course, gotten stale — that first-round upset of the Derrick Rose-less Bulls notwithstanding. The franchise needed to change course not only to compete, but also to build long-term support from the fans. It hasn't materialized as expected this season, but now the Sixers have a boatload of cash and cap space, not to mention the whole Andrew Bynum enigma still looming as a possibility on the horizon.

In fact, that's where the narrative has started to turn as well — should they or shouldn't they re-sign Bynum? Honestly, I wouldn't be upset if they let him walk after this debacle of a season. However, if I was in charge, I'd still take the gamble on Bynum all over again. I'd re-sign him and let the team that was supposed to be — minus a few schlubs and plus a few better supporting actors — get out on the court together.

Many people probably think I'm crazy, especially after ranting on the man just a couple of weeks ago. But at the end of the day, if his knees do heal, Andrew Bynum can be that difference-maker, that franchise center that so few teams actually have. The Sixers may find that in the draft someday, but then again, maybe they won't. They certainly haven't found that guy in the past decade toiling away among the middling sect. You know Bynum has the ability when healthy, and the Sixers already rolled the dice with him once — they might as well do it again.

At the end of the day, the only moves that matter in the NBA are the ones that give you a shot to be a real contender. In order to do that, you need at least one superstar — if not three nowadays. Andrew Bynum may never be able to recover. He may never step foot on a basketball court in Philadelphia or anywhere else for that matter again. But if and when he does, he has the makings of a superstar — we've seen it on the court as recently as last season — whether you like him and his stupid ass hair or not.

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