They are paying Bynum a shade under $17 million this year, so far to ride the pine. Andrew Bynum will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and could possibly leave the Sixers with one of the toughest decisions you could ask a franchise to make. Consider the following possibilities, none of which would surprise anyone:
A) Andrew Bynum never returns close to last year’s form, plays less than stellar basketball, plays less than a third of the season and is a non-factor in the playoffs.
B) Andrew Bynum comes back in mid-to-late January and shows signs of greatness, but still misses flurries of games due to his bad knees. The Sixers make the playoffs, but have an early exit with Bynum being less than a major factor.
C) Andrew Bynum returns by the end of January, plays absolutely out of his mind and is a major factor in a deep Sixer playoff run.
As a Sixers fan, you absolutely hope for scenario C. Or do you? Therein lies the issue. Unless the Sixers are confident they can keep a healthy Bynum, with no issues extending from his camp, each scenario proposes its own potential problems come negotiation time.
In scenario A, do you want your franchise to risk being tied into another bad contract for a player with knee issues who can’t stay on the court, setting the team back three-to-five more years? And if they would let Bynum walk, and he becomes a force elsewhere, the origination looks terrible.
In scenario B, Bynum would do just enough to receive high priced contracts from other teams, but not enough for the Sixers to feel 100 percent comfortable giving him a max deal. Ideally they’d like to meet him in the middle in this scenario, perhaps offering Bynum one year less than he wants, for more money per year than they want, and ideally a team option for a fourth or fifth year. (For the record I think this is the most likely possibility. As of right now, no one is offering Andrew Bynum big money to keep their bench warm.)
In scenario C, Bynum is playing in All-Star form for the last third or so of the season while helping the team to a deep playoff run, convincing Bynum that Philadelphia is the place where he should spend the prime years of his career (something they’ve been unsuccessful doing with past free agents).
It’s the ultimate Catch-22.
Lost in this is the major factor of how he plays with his teammates. Is a third of the season enough time to really evaluate that? I doubt it is, although with the shooters surrounding him and a budding Jrue Holiday at point guard, it does seem like a natural fit, but you never know.
Worst case scenario is if Bynum doesn’t want to stay, but the Sixers do want to keep him, they suddenly have the biggest sign-and-trade asset in the NBA this offseason. They could also let him walk, take $17 million off of their salary cap and have a ton of money to spend for the 2014 free agent class (deeper than the 2010 class), although we all know high prized free agents want to play in warm or tax-free cities and states, not Philadelphia.
Best case scenario is Andrew Bynum returns to All-Star form, gels with his teammates and Doug Collins, falls in love with the city, and plays the next five years of his prime here. My gut tells me even at his peak he’d want to stay, when you consider he’s the dominant big man in the conference and the East only has one dominant team at the moment, a team that could break up in 2014. Philly seems like the obvious place to play.
I truly hope the whole bowling incident woke him up as far as his career is concerned. When he dropped the line that “if that happened bowling, what happens dunking?” when addressing the bowling incident, he sounded like a guy who was less than confident in his ability to return to full form. There isn’t one thing that humbles professional athletes more than the feeling of not having it anymore. I hope Bynum takes this to heart, and starts taking his conditioning, his career and his anticipated basketball career in Philadelphia more seriously. If that doesn’t motivate him, I’m not sure what can.
For now, it’s all speculation. Until the verdict, Philly sports fans will do what they’ve been trained to do their whole lives: hope for the best, while being prepared for the worst.
Should the Sixers give Bynum a max deal?
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