Aug 9, 2012, 11:18 PM EDT
Wonder of wonders, it looks like this thing is actually going down. No champagne-popping until everyone signs on the line that is dotted, and maybe not even for another 24 hours after that ’til we make sure that David Stern doesn’t get up to his meddling ways, but ESPN and just about everyone else is reporting that the four-teamer Enrico posted about earlier today is indeed legit, and should be processed as early as Friday morning.
To recap, the trade in discussion is one that the great majority of the country will refer to as the “Dwight Howard trade,” since by far the most notable part of the deal sees the All-World center Howard going from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers, with Orlando getting Al Harrington, some young’ns and draft picks in return, some of which the Sixers would provide. But the part of real consequence to the Sixers would see Philly’s All-Star, Olympian and oft-rumored trade target Andre Iguodala sent to the Nuggets, with Lakers’ All-NBA center Andrew Bynum coming to Philadelphia in return. (Philly also appears to be sacrificing young players Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic in the deal, as well as a future protected #1 pick, and absorbs overpaid veteran shooting guard Jason Richardson as part of the deal.)
As hinted at in this post’s title, this is just about the greatest thing ever for the Sixers. A team long marooned in the middle of the NBA pack, with good coaching and solid players but no stars and no ceiling to speak of, this is the move for a franchise player (or at the very least, a potential franchise player) that Sixers fans have endlessly clamored for. Last season, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game, on 56% shooting. Every single one of those statistics would have led the Sixers last season. And that was while he had to split rebounds and post touches with Gasol, not to mention having teammate Kobe Bryant leading the league in shots per game on the wing. This guy is an absolute force in this league—and he’s still only 24.
Almost as importantly, the Iguodala-for-Bynum swap instantaneously makes sense out of what is currently a very unbalanced roster. Never mind having to worry about starting Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown together anymore — Bynum sends Brown to the 10-15-minute-a-game bench role where he belongs, and (hopefully) relegates Spence there as well, with the younger, more defensively competent Lavoy Allen brought to play alongside him in the frontcourt. Meanwhile, losing ‘Dre opens up our wing glut to allow the penetrating, playmaking Evan Turner to play alongside the more complementary spot-up shooter Dorrell Wright. A Holiday-Turner-Wright-Allen-Bynum starting five, with Youngs Nick and Thad, Richardson, Brown and Hawes coming off the bench…that’s not a bad top two lines, really.
And what do we lose in ‘Dre? Well, a lot — our perimeter defense will suffer, and while Bynum will certainly be a defensive upgrade over Hawes (just about anyone would be), he’s not nearly polished or mature enough on D to completely cover for our wing guys. But just everything else ‘Dre gives us — his playmaking, his scoring, his athleticism — could be fairly well compensated for with increased minutes for Holiday and Turner, and without Iguodala or free-agency departee Lou Williams to dominate the offense, we could finally see exactly what we have with those two guys at the wheel. It’s a step the team probably had to take at some point or another.
Naturally, the deal would not be without its pratfalls. Despite his obvious statistical career year last season, even casual fans should probably be able to recall a couple of stories over the last year involving Bynum being…difficult, to say the least. He clashed with Lakers coach Mike Brown over his desire to shoot threes, which he promised to continue shooting despite getting benched for doing so. He avoided huddles, joking that he was “getting his Zen on.” He told reporters that he wasn’t worried before a potential close-out game against the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, because “close-out games are actually kind of easy.” And of course, he missed the first five games of the season after clocking Dallas Mavericks guard JJ Barea in the Lakers’ own elimination game of the 2010 post-season, a move stunning in its immaturity and carelessness. Bynum’s arrival would almost certainly spell doom for Coach Collins, who might not be able to co-exist with a space cadet like Bynum for more than a road trip.
Perhaps more pressingly, acquiring Bynum might not be a long-term fix for the Sixers, as Bynum’s contract expires at the end of the season. Bynum has never expressed much of an opinion about playing for the Sixers, because to my knowledge, up until 24 hours ago he had no reason to be asked about such a circumstance, but it’s not hard to anticipate Bynum at least playing at testing his options in free agency should he be dealt to Philadelphia and play out the remaining season on his contract there—and in reality, he very well might walk to go play for whatever big-market superteam inevitably brews in the NBA over the next season.
And yeah, we are giving up some assets here beyond ‘Dre. We still have absolutely no idea what we would have had in Harkless, and it always sucks to give up a young, talented player before you even get a chance to experience what he could have brought to the table. Nik Vucevic may have fallen out of the rotation towards the end of the year, but he was still a promising young big man, showing a refined touch around the basket and a (sporadically) reliable jumper that very likely will allow him to remain in this league for a long time. And while there’s no point in waxing poetic about a likely lottery-protected #1 pick…well, you’d still rather like to hold on to those if possible.
Nonetheless, the assets they lost are likely all replaceable (and in fact were quite redundant on the team in the short term), and the upside far outweighs the risk with Bynum. The maturity complaints are legit, but they’ve been levied against countless great players who either outgrew or eclipsed them—including Bynum’s teammate, the five-time champ Bryant. And while Bynum might split after the season, chances are also pretty decent that he’d end up staying—the Sixers will be able to offer him more money and years than anyone else, and if everything goes right, a Bynum-led Sixers team could be a top-flight team in the East next year, with a young, steadily improving core. If the Deron Williams experience in Brooklyn has taught us anything, it’s that in the NBA, a franchise player in the hand is worth two on the trading block.
And if they do their best and Bynum does split…well, all you’ve lost to get him for a year was a guy who was probably gone the next season (if not earlier) anyway, and you still have Turner and Holiday to build around in free agency. Or, if it all totally goes to hell, you blow the team up entir
ely and rebuild from scratch. Either way, you’re not just spinning your wheels every season, trotting out the same basic NBA experiment and hoping for different results. You’re moving in a direction, and in the weird-ass world of the NBA, sometimes moving backwards can be just as productive as moving forwards. That’s all we’ve asked for from this team for the longest time, and now they’re actually doing it.
With all the short-term moves the Sixers were making this off-season, signing no player of real consequence but signing nobody for more than a year or two, it seemed like the team might very well just spend the next couple seasons twiddling their thumbs waiting for a game-changing trade to roll around. Well, this is the trade. It popped up a lot sooner than many of us were expecting, but it’s here, and the Sixers deserve a lot of credit for seizing the opportunity and actually, presumably, hopefully, getting it done. It might have been years before an opportunity like this rolls around again, and as Sixers fans, we should be praying that it goes through ASAP.
(Much more on this to follow in the days to come, but if in fact we have seen the last of Andre Iguodala as a Philadelphia 76er, I’d just like to take this opportunity to say that despite all the miscasting, despite all the frustration, and despite all the times I’ve called for him to be traded, he was truly a great Sixer and I can’t wait to root for him as a Nugget.)
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