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Spike Eskin: Andrew Bynum, Where Do We Go From Here?

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By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – You had to laugh, just to keep yourself from crying when you heard the news. Honestly, when I looked down at my phone on Friday night and saw the news, it didn’t seem like it could possibly be real.

“Bynum hurt his left knee bowling.”

This of course after Andrew Bynum, who was to be the face of the Sixers franchise for the next half decade, who has not practiced or played in a game because of an injury and pain in his right knee, had hurt his left knee … bowling. It was real alright.

We knew Andrew Bynum is sort of a knucklehead. We knew Andrew Bynum has some bad knees. We may have underrated the degree of knuckleheadedness and knee problems however.

Unbelievable, and yet so apropos for Philadelphia sports over the last six months or so.

Ridiculousness aside, with a timetable that although not officially moved back (though likely moved back), and a seven foot star player who has still yet to play, but still with an obscene amount of potential, the Sixers still will play the rest of this season and will still have a big decision to make after it’s finished.

That decision is whether or not to trust the franchise, along with five years and over $80 million to Andrew Bynum.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

LIKELY SCENARIOS (followed by their consequences):

Andrew Bynum Returns In February, Plays Well And Mostly Injury Free

This is the best possible scenario for Andrew Bynum, the Sixers, and the fans. If Bynum comes back, looks healthy, plays more than 25 or 30 games, and plays well during the time (while avoiding dangerous activities like, say, bowling), the Sixers will pretty much have no other option than to offer him a max contract. Players of his skill level are at a premium in the NBA, and one would guess that the risk is worth the potential reward.

Andrew Bynum Returns Late or Looks Shaky When He Returns

This will be the toughest decision for the Sixers.

If Bynum either returns for a very short period of time (20 games or fewer), or comes back and just doesn’t look like guy they hoped they traded for, it’s a guessing game to the highest degree. It’s likely another team will still offer Bynum a hefty contract, because that’s what NBA teams do. There will not be a discount, and will still cost the Sixers max money.

The team just put the nightmare of the Elton Brand (no offense Elton) contract in the rear view mirror, is it worth driving right back down the same street?

Andrew Bynum Doesn’t Return This Season

You know how this one works. Bynum doesn’t come back, but claims to be healthier than ever after the season.

Though there will be many (like THIS GUY) who will suggest that the Sixers should still offer Bynum a max contract, it seems unlikely the team would do so.

The argument for signing Bynum here, even for max money, is that the potential gain still outweighs the risk, especially considering the alternatives.

THE CONSEQUENCES

Bynum Stays And Is Mostly Healthy

HOORAY!

If Bynum resigns and can play, everything else is just details. The core of this team moving forward would be Bynum and Jrue Holiday, and the pieces surrounding those two are somewhat interchangeable. The Sixers, with their mostly-short and inexpensive contracts, would have some room to get those parts right.

The team would still need to add a third high level talent before it considers itself a contender, but having two of those already would make the job of convincing one of those guys to come here a whole lot easier.

Bynum Stays And Is Mostly Unhealthy

BOO!

This would be a mess. The team would have taken a shot, which is to be respected, but if the big guy can’t play, they’ll find themselves buried under the weight of his contract for most of those five years.

It takes a lot of talent and creativity to field an NBA team that’s a contender with three close to max level players. It takes a miracle of substantial proportions to create a contender when one of your three max level players is not playing.

Bynum Leaves And Sixers Go Into Full Rebuild Mode

This seems like the least likely scenario, given the current ownership. Without Bynum, the team would really have only Holiday as an important piece.

In this scenario, the Sixers would find a way to trade Jason Richardson, and perhaps Thaddeus Young for expiring contracts, and start all over while Holiday is young. Hope you get lucky in the draft, and leave yourself with plenty of cap room if the situation calls for it.

Bynum Leaves And The Sixers Sign Another Superstar

The seems almost as unlikely as the previous situation.

With some salary cap flexibility, the Sixers would go and attempt to sign an unrestricted free-agent who is superstar level. The problem is that there aren’t many guys like this, and most of them want to go and either play with other superstars, or in markets with more cache than Philadelphia.

The 2013 free-agent superstar class (both restricted and unrestricted) basically amounts to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

Dwight Howard will either stay in Los Angeles or find a way to weasel his way to Brooklyn. It’s hard to imagine Paul doing anything either than stay with the Clippers or find a way to play with the Knicks. The Sixers lone attraction is Jrue Holiday, who plays the same position as Paul.

Bynum Leaves And The Sixers Spend Money On Non-Superstars

If Bynum leaves, this seems the most scary and most likely.

Players like Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could be worth big money to a team who needs to add a final piece, but is money misspent for a team expecting them to be the #1 option on a contending team.

Think about Chris Bosh for a moment. A very good player, who is worth $16 million a year to the Heat, but if he was the best player on a team, the money would be far less well spent.

Bynum Quits Basketball And Becomes A Pro Bowler

“YOLO” – Andrew Bynum

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