As recently as one week ago, 76ers general manager Tony DiLeo reiterated that Andrew Bynum was still at the forefront of the 76ers’ plans.
Bynum “is Plan A,” DiLeo said. “Until we get the answers, until we make a decision, it’s a calculated decision or a risk-management decision, that’s something we’ll have to make at the end of the year, going into free agency.”
By now, we are well past the team’s good intentions of last August, when the Sixers moved pieces young (Nikola Vucevic and Maurice Harkless and a lottery-protected first-round draft pick) and old (Andre Iguodala) in order to add Bynum.
As rickety as Bynum’s knees appear to be, somebody in some NBA front office this summer will be willing to offer the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent – whether he plays this season or not – a huge sum of money. NBA front offices are populated by people who believe that the magic beans will work for them.
That could force the Sixers to move to Plan B, and as bleak as things look now, the alternative without Bynum could be even worse.
Like a good number of teams, the Sixers can have millions of dollars available under the salary cap this summer, which will probably be about $60 million when it is announced later this year. And if Bynum isn’t re-signed, that just means more cap space for the Sixers.
But Bynum, when healthy, is among those free agents who – as DiLeo put it – can move the needle. The others who fall under this category, namely, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard – are not coming to Philadelphia.
That leaves the Sixers looking at the next tier of players, which includes Josh Smith and Al Jefferson, quality players but a few notches below a healthy Bynum.
Maybe the Sixers’ best option is a sign-and-trade with Bynum. There will probably be teams willing to part with players, draft picks, or cash. That would help the Sixers – who don’t have nearly the number of assets now that they did before the trade – recoup something for losing Bynum.
The biggest lure for Bynum to play here before it all went sour was that the Sixers could pay him more money – a “max” deal worth more than $100 million – than any other franchise. So whether he wanted to be in Philadelphia or not for basketball reasons, staying in Philadelphia was the right thing financially.
But that advantage once held by the Sixers is gone, for the Sixers, despite being able to outbid any team for his services, won’t grant Bynum a max deal unless he is determined to be in perfect health. Conversely, Bynum will look at his options from an all-things-being-equal standpoint, and that doesn’t bode well for the Sixers.
DiLeo’s Plan A is to keep an eye on things. Bynum is quite aware that the Sixers have lost a dozen consecutive road games, their longest such streak since a 20-game road skid that started 25 years ago, when Bynum was less than 2 months old.
He knows that only Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young have consistently demonstrated that they can be productive on a nightly basis. That’s something that can’t be underestimated considering that Bynum has played his entire career alongside Kobe Bryant and most of it with Pau Gasol.
So whatever Plan B might be, it’s time to start giving it a long, hard look. Because Plan A might be little more than wishful thinking.