Monday, November 26, 2012

Andrew Bynum: Best Case and Worst Case Scenarios

"Bottom line is Andrew is out indefinitely," DiLeo said before the Sixers played the Oklahoma City Thunder. "There are no timelines; we just have to wait and see how he reacts."

"His knees now and the MRIs are not the same; it's a different type (of) situation," DiLeo said. "At the time of the trade, we had four doctors look at his MRI; we knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise-type player. We took that risk."

Just two days ago, this was the quote from the Philadelphia 76ers, and represented every single fear that they had upon dealing for him in a four-team trade last August. In fact, this exact situation is was the "worst case scenario" that MAMBINO listed in our Philly season preview

Drew has again fallen prey to a knee injury, though this time the cause is as nebulous as the man himself. For weeks, the Sixers have been maintaining that a "bone bruise" has been the source of Bynum's absence, with mysterious, non-surgical treatments being used to try and get the new Philly center on the court. However, unlike previous catastrophic injuries from on-court mishaps, the fear of the unknown is seems to be more frightening than watching him writhe in pain on the floor. Matching up the words "Andrew Bynum" and "indefinitely" creates a sentence more terrifying to fans of his teams than the words "Andrew Bynum" and "your babysitter" together.

There's no return date for Bynum, but according to DiLeo, a December debut is absolutely out of the question. Whether or not Drew comes back at all this season, which at this point is a possibility, could totally change the complexion of the massive deal that sent 12 players and four 1st round draft choices around the league. Let's take a look at how the best case, worst case and everything in between could change how the "Dwight Howard" trade will be viewed going forward. 

Best Case Scenario

Andrew comes back in mid to late January, rusty, but still showing flashes of dominance that made him a 2nd Team All-NBA performer. Bynum will augment a 76ers team that is one of the league's very worst in nearly every single offensive metric possible, excluding three-point percentage and free throw percentage. In other words, Philly is the exact team that struggled to score 80 points a game against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals last spring. 

Bynum's two replacements, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, have struggled mightily this season to replicate any of what Drew would bring to the table. Combined, the duo is shooting under 42% at 21 minutes a game, aren't averaging more than 8 points or 6 rebounds and are helping to give the Sixers the league's 27th worst point in the paint per game. Hawes leads the way with the 142nd ranked PER this year, which makes him almost as exactly as impressive as Byron Mullens or Amir Johnson. But not nearly as ugly

In short, the Sixers need Bynum to come in and produce, and produce he does. Philly is far better than anyone expects, as Drew comes in to fill the void that Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young have both pushed themselves towards with their new teammate's absence. Holiday especially has been impressive, putting up numbers that make it seem like he's still a player waiting for a four-year extension...not one that already has one. With the last piece in place, the Sixers get a mid-season addition that buoys the upstart young team's playoff chances exponentially. In fact, it's viewed as a boon that Bynum missed so much time early on; after all, it helped create a catalyst for players like Young and Holiday to view themselves as part of a winning core, rather than complimentary pieces to the superstar in Andrew. 

Win or lose in the playoffs, Bynum has shown that he's indeed worthy of a multi-year extension, though not the maximum, five-year deal he was hoping for when he returned to the area he grew up in. After all, he'll have missed anywhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 games at that point, making it the fourth season in his last six that he's missed at least 28 games (and that fifth season, he sat out of 17). Philly settles on a three year deal for much less than the maximum, gambling yet again on Bynum's knees, albeit with much more hope than if they were watching helplessly as he underwent another surgery without playing a minute for the team. 

Impact on the trade: In this case, the Sixers would have come out on top, moreso than Denver, but not nearly as much as the Lakers. They'll have seen some on-court production out of Bynum, enough to justify another deal, but the damage, figuratively and literally, has already been done. There's ample proof that Drew isn't a player that can be counted on for 82 or even 72 games a season. He's going to have recurring knee problems his whole career, and 2011-2012 is going to be looked at as a fluke rather than a promise for the future. Regardless, if he's on the court and even remotely healthy, Bynum can be a top-20 player. He's that good.

Even a healthy half-campaign from Bynum is going to save Philadelphia from being the bottom of the four-teamer, but that being said, they've already suffered some consequences of the worst case scenario. However, the yearly gamble is always going to be whether or not Andrew is healthy enough during playoff time. 

Worst Case Scenario

Over and over again, the Sixers have been saying that Bynum has "weakened cartilage in the knees", and that the condition has worsened since their August trade. After weeks of rest of rehab, the dreaded microfracture surgery is inevitable. In sports parlance, this procedure is devastating for any athlete, knocking them out of action for a year or longer, in hopes that tiny fractures drilled into the patella will help to regrow or heal damaged cartilage in the knee joint. 

Bynum is done for the 2012-2013 season, and looking well into 2013-2014 for his next step into a NBA game. Like many veterans of microfracture surgery--Zach Randolph, Amar'e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd, Chris Webber, Kenyon Martin, to name a few--Drew could resume a productive NBA career, but in some player's cases, might never be the same dominant player he was before. Degenerative knees in his mid-twenties could spell the beginning of the end for Bynum, as the entire city of Portland will tell you. For decades on end.

Impact on the trade: An absolute failure for the 76ers. A unmitigated, Gilbert Arenas-like failure. Take your pick on which Agent Zero situation I'm talking about. It's all still bad. 

Let's look at what Philly gave up:

Nikola Vucevic: Thus far, the USC product has looked unbelievably good on the Magic, far better than anyone could have expected out after a season with the Sixers in which he resembled a Montenegrin scarecrow more than a pro athlete. He's averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds, with five double-doubles in just 13 games. Stunningly, he looks like he could be a legitimate NBA starting center.

Moe Harkless: The jury is still out on the small forward, but has shown flashes of potential in his 16 minutes a game. Though he's still raw at age 19, he's been able to rebound somewhat impressively in his short time on the court.  

Andre Iguodala: AI is doing what he's always done, which is put up solid all-around statistics. He's averaging 15/6/3, shooting .462/.400/.690, all hovering around his career numbers, excluding assists (which can be attributed to a bevy of playmakers around him in Denver). He might not be an All-Star this year, but along with his spectacular defense that ranks amongst the best in the league, Iguodala is doing everything that can be asked of him. All of this isn't to mention the first rounder they'll be giving up to Orlando at some point.

In the end, Philly will have given up at least two solid role-players, an Olympian and a potential lottery pick for...essentially nothing.

It's not so much that the three players Philadelphia traded are going to be All-Stars or once in a generation superstars. It's that the team had assets and could have used them to trade for someone else. Let's say that Dwight got shipped to Brooklyn in that Brook Lopez trade that never was. Then you have Iguodala (who's value has never been higher as when he played on the Olympic team) which you could have used to trade for say, Pau Gasol (probably close to straight up) and then you still have Harkless and Vucevic to either keep on developing or trade away. Last year's Philly team wasn't going anywhere with Iguodala as it's lead guy, but they had young players with upside (Evan Turner, Holiday, Vucevic) and could have made a number of moves to improve themselves externally as well as waiting on internal solutions.

As DiLeo said, the team made a calculated gamble, and if Bynum were to undergo the knife again, they made out like Curt Schilling in the state of Rhode Island. This would be one of the worst trades in 76ers history, and that's saying a lot for a franchise that's traded Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Wilt Chamberlain.

Middle of the Road Scenario

Bynum comes back in late February or March, and hobbles along for around 20 games to  finish out the regular season. He's not nearly the destroyer of men that crippled JJ Barea and dropped 19/12 on the league last year, but rather a faded, out of shape version of an all-world player. He helps the Sixers somewhat, registering a double-double here and there, but not being the complete difference maker that Philly envisioned in August. He again promises to diligently rehab and come back strong for 2013-2014, though at this point it's pretty clear that he's always going to be an injury-prone player. The Sixers are again a middle of the pack playoff team, and with a shaky big man in Bynum, have to focus on building around Jrue Holiday rather than their center.

Impact on the trade: In this scenario, Philadelphia isn't in a terrible spot, but certainly come out close to Orlando in terms of "trade losers". In the midst of Bynum's injury woes, they've established that KOBEsh-cousin dominator Holiday is going to be a franchise cornestone going forward, with Evan Turner hopefully joining him sooner rather than later. The team will have nearly $13 million in salary cap space next summer, with room for a max player if Spencer Hawes' manageable $6 million dollar salary is dealt.

At the very least, the trade will have established that the team was taking a new direction away from a Iguodala-centric future, and on the shoulders of younger players. Of course the player assets in Vucevic and Harkless will be gone, but at the very least, the trade an injury to Bynum opened up new avenues for Holiday to succeed and for the team to try to go big this summer with free agent signings.

At this point, Bynum's free agent price has been lowered to the point where a max contract is completely ludicrous. He'd have to re-establish value when, or if, he returns, and then probably on a short term deal to prove his health. In that sense, it's probably still in Philadelphia's fortunes to re-sign Andrew for 2012-2013, which will again give them something coming out of the big August trade. In this sense, they'll be just the big loser of the trade, rather than being one of the biggest losers or any trade in NBA history.


  1. The jury is still out on both of the young'ins Philly gave up. Vucevic putting up 10/8 on a lottery team isn't that impressive to me. Maybe he'll be an 8th man on a playoff team? He is still a soft big who'd prefer to play on the perimeter. A poor man's Brook Lopez doesn't scare me. Harkless has skills but it will take a while for that to come together.

    The worst case scenario really isn't that bad. They still have their Holliday/Turner core that they feel good about, and the team as currently constructed is playing over .500 basketball.

    Iguodala can opt out of his deal and become a free agent this year anyway. So the 6ers swung for the fences and miss, if Bynum has microfracture or doesn't re-sign, they still have cap room to make a run at a max guy in 2013 or 2014, and wind up in basically the same situation they would have, minus Harkless and Vucevic. Hardly an epic setback. They'll miss Lou Williams more (who they should've re-signed!)

  2. Also, I don't follow the logic of the hypothetical Dwight scenario -- they traded Iguodala IN the Dwight trade! They knew it was happening, and if they see Bynum as the #2 big in the game but with the downside of an injury, I don't think you can crush them, even with the injury.

    Here's a fun "who says no" scenario not involving Dwight Coward -- let's say ORL-LAL trade happens in some capacity and Dwight goes to LA and Bynum leaves LA. PHI keeps its "assets" -- Philly calls up OKC and offers Iguodala, Harkless, Vucevic, and picks for the BEARD. That's a better offer than Kevin Martin, right? Maybe Presti has a hard-on for that guaranteed Lotto pick and likes Lamb more than Harkless, but I've gotta imagine he would prefer Iguodala over Martin. Food for thought.

    (Atlantic even more terrifying with a Holiday-Harden-Turner smallball Philly crew)