Four scenarios for Sixers to resolve Bynum situation

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Four scenarios for Sixers to resolve Bynum situation

The Sixers will return to the court on Saturday night. Andrew Bynum will not.

The Sixers have 22 wins and 30 losses. They have been an up-and-down (mostly down) team, a hit-or-miss (mostly miss) squad in the midst of an unspectacular season that is quickly funneling toward a conclusion that won’t include the playoffs unless something spectacular and unexpected happens.

That spectacular and unexpected thing would be Bynum getting healthy and playing well and carrying the listless Sixers on a back supported by two bad knees. On Tuesday, Bynum said he’s 100 percent certain he’ll play this year. You’re forgiven if you’re 100 percent skeptical.

Not long ago, Bynum said he hoped to return right after the All-Star break. Then, he modified his schedule and said the “target” for his return was February. And now he says he won’t practice for a week or two, which would put him into March.

The Sixers have 30 games remaining. If Bynum doesn’t practice for another two weeks, that would be around March 8. There are nine games between now and then. Delete them all, and the Sixers would be down to 21 games. But then Bynum would have to practice for a little while before competing. Subtract at least another week -- at least three more outings -- and the Sixers would have 18 games remaining before Bynum plays. That’s if all goes well, which it hasn’t so far.

This thing is a huge mess. There are four possible scenarios now. None of them are good for the Sixers.

Bynum plays and the Sixers don’t re-sign him
Even if he can get on the court for the last 18 games (I’d take the under on that number if you’re a gambler), that’s such a small sample size that it would be impossible to know how (or if) he’ll hold up next year and the year after and the year after that. He’s 25, he has two bad knees and he’s already missed the majority of this season. That hardly inspires confidence.

Bynum is a free agent after this year. If the Sixers let him walk, or if he decides to walk on his own, the team would clear about $16.4 million off the books. That would give the organization money to spend in free agency. The problem is that the 2013 free agent class isn’t tailored to the Sixers’ many needs.

Top-tier players like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul aren’t coming to Philadelphia. The more you look at the list, the more you’ll see that the Sixers would be down to courting guys such as Josh Smith or Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Even if one of them excites you, are any of them worth big-money contracts? And do any of them make the Sixers contenders in the East? (The answer to both questions is no.)

Bynum plays and the Sixers re-sign him
During All-Star weekend, Kobe Bryant told Dei Lynam that Bynum “is a phenomenal player.” What he should have said: Bynum “was a phenomenal player.” We know what he used to be. We don’t know what he is at the moment, and we don’t know what he will (or won’t) be in the future. 

If Bynum returns and plays around 18 games, how can the Sixers possibly use such a limited audition to evaluate his health and worth? Last year, in a lockout-shortened season, Bynum played 60 regular-season games and 12 more in the postseason. He looked good and healthy. Then, he came to Philly and looked the opposite. If you couldn’t predict his value after 72 games, how can you do it after, at most, 18? And then, if they do re-sign him, what if this tiresome saga drags out and his health continues to be a problem? It would be disastrous on the court, and it would be equally damaging to the franchise from a PR perspective.

Bynum doesn’t play and the Sixers don’t re-sign him
This might be the best outcome for the Sixers. Even though the 2013 free agent class appears to have limited options for them, the Sixers would at least get someone healthy. Ostensibly. You can apparently never be too sure these days.

After a year of bad publicity in which media members and fans have criticized the Sixers, this might be the easiest one to spin. It’s the cut-their-losses scenario. The Sixers admit they gambled and lost, then resolve to move on with a different, less-perilous plan.

Bynum doesn’t play and the Sixers re-sign him
For the Sixers, this is the go-for-broke/in-for-a-penny, in-for-millions-of-dollars-more gambit. It would be the basketball equivalent of buying an expensive lottery ticket, scratching off the panel with glee, losing, frowning and then buying the same lottery ticket again -- only for more money while knowing that, if it doesn’t pay off this time, you’re going to end up in an NBA soup kitchen for many years to come.

“Would I be a risk?" Bynum asked. “I don’t know because I don’t do risk assessment.”

I don’t do risk assessment. You probably don’t, either. And yet everyone knows Bynum is a huge risk -- everyone but Bynum and the Sixers, evidently.

None of these scenarios are good. The Sixers are in a horrible spot and they’re facing an impossible decision with no right or clear answer. If I was a member of the front office and I had to pick one of the above possibilities, I’d lean toward the third. It’s the easiest way out for everyone -- which isn’t the same as ensuring the best conclusion to this frightful tale.

The Sixers have written a choose-their-own-adventure novel. They will be forced to pick a path and turn the page soon. The problem is that all of their options are ugly and fraught with danger.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.