No Bynum means no relevance for Sixers


No Bynum means no relevance for Sixers

Andrew Bynum was supposed to talk on Monday. He didn’t. Something happened. Something always happens with Bynum -- except playing basketball. That never happens. Not this year. Not so far.

So he didn’t talk on Monday. On Tuesday, before the Sixers faced the Magic in a game that no semi-sane person would willingly watch, reporters surrounded Bynum’s locker at the Wells Fargo Center. This is SOP (standard operating procedure) for BTD (Bynum Talking Day). We waited. Then we waited some more. Bynum never showed. Then the locker room closed because media hours were over.

Don’t feel bad for us. This isn’t about that. This is about Bynum and his team and what happened next -- or, rather, what didn’t. The reporters waited outside the locker room and hoped Bynum would materialize and talk because, well, it’s the Sixers and what else is there to write about a going-nowhere team playing another going-nowhere team in late February? Exactly. Not much. Not anything, really.

So we waited. After a while, a Sixers PR handler materialized and told us that Bynum would not talk on Tuesday after all. We were told he would talk Wednesday after practice. Then we were told there wouldn’t be practice on Wednesday and that Bynum won't talk until Friday. That’s the current plan -- Friday. But you know how plans and Bynum get along (hint: not well).

According to the PR person, Bynum apologized “for not being here sooner.” I assume he meant on Tuesday, but he could just as easily have been talking about the entire season. Bynum also wasn’t on the bench for the Sixers' 98-84 loss to the Magic (see game recap). That sparked a conversation on Twitter and press row about where he was (supposedly in the building) and why he wasn’t sitting with the team (supposedly getting treatment).

That’s when it occurred to me: The semi-regular Bynum updates/sightings are the only things keeping the Sixers relevant.

Imagine how bleak the Sixers’ situation would be if they didn’t have a giant 25-year-old with two question marks for knees to dangle in front of us every week or so. If Bynum wasn’t on the roster, if the mystery about him didn’t exist, the fire for professional basketball in this town would have already gone out. As it is, the embers are barely glowing, and that’s only because Bynum remains a curiosity and a concern.

The Sixers missed a grand opportunity this year to increase interest in the team. There was a monstrous void for months with nothing even remotely compelling or promising to fill it. The Eagles had a horrible season. The Flyers were in a lockout. The Phils were on hiatus after a disappointing campaign. And the Sixers still couldn’t get the fans or the media to focus on them. The one lasting storyline this season has been Bynum and his unknown return date.

Sports are ultimately entertainment. It is why the Sixers built the world’s largest T-shirt cannon and fire off confetti after inconsequential wins and hand out Big Macs when the team scores 100 points. It’s part of the show. When the actors and the plot aren’t very good, you need something else to get people inside the theater.

About that: attendance numbers are tricky. More than once, someone with the Sixers told me their figures in that department are up this year from last year. Having been in the building for all but a few home games, I find that hard to believe. So do the people who track these things. According to them, the Sixers averaged 17,502 fans last season (14th in the NBA). This year, those same people have the Sixers averaging around 16,400 (19th).

But whether the attendance is better or worse doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that the attendance isn’t good. It’s why Sixers CEO Adam Aron went on Twitter recently and gave away free lower bowl tickets to 12 fans -- because the seats were available. He could have given away 120 or 1,200 seats without issue.

Which brings us back to Bynum. His saga -- his knees and what the Sixers knew and when they knew it and whether he and/or the team misled the town -- is the only thing that gets anyone to glance (however momentarily) in the Sixers' direction these days. Without him -- or, rather, without his mouth and his hair and his off-court antics -- the Sixers would be completely ignored instead of mostly ignored. How grim.

Forget about a tree falling in the woods. Here’s a better question, one you and the Sixers already know the answer to: If a giant tree of a man doesn’t play and doesn’t talk, does his team make a sound?

Brett Brown: Sixers' Nik Stauskas set for 'breakout year'

Brett Brown: Sixers' Nik Stauskas set for 'breakout year'

CAMDEN, N.J. — The irony of Nik Stauskas’ reputation as a three-point shooter is that he doesn’t view himself that way.

Stauskas was drafted eighth overall by the Kings in 2014 after shooting 44.1 percent from three over two years at Michigan. But that’s not how he envisioned himself being in the pros.

“It’s crazy,” Stauskas said after practice Thursday. “I know I was a great shooter coming out of Michigan, but I don’t consider myself a shooter. I consider myself a gamer. I don’t think I’m an effective NBA player when I just stand and spot up and shoot threes. That’s really not my game.”

Stauskas has struggled to find offensive consistency in the NBA. The third-year two-guard averaged 32.4 percent from long range in his first two seasons. He wasn’t reliable as a knockdown shooter and bounced in and out of the starting lineup last season.

Rather than being a finesse player, Brett Brown encouraged Stauskas to get aggressive. Brown wanted to a see an edge from Stauskas and not hold back at the basket.

Stauskas displayed that side to his game on opening night against the Thunder. In 23 minutes off the bench, he scored 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. His only miss came on a three-point attempt. His 83.3 shooting percentage was a single-game career high.

“He was cocky,” Brown said. “He was in attack mode. He was not afraid to put it to the floor and get to the rim. I feel like he’s got a real chance to have a breakout year. We need him to have a breakout year.”

The Sixers picked up the options on Stauskas, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on Thursday.

“I think the statement the club made on his contract lets him probably have a little bit more comfort on what we think of him,” Brown said. “I was really happy with his swagger last night.”

Stauskas is figuring out his role on the Sixers this season. It is one that can change often given injuries. A key to being successful, whether he is on the perimeter or at the rim, is feeling confident and in a rhythm on the floor.

“I had fun out there,” Stauskas said. “More than anything, I think yesterday was the first time in a while that I’ve really enjoyed myself out there and had a smile on my face.”

Sixers players 'thrown off' by anthem ordeal, figuring out how to respond

Sixers players 'thrown off' by anthem ordeal, figuring out how to respond

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers held a team meeting on Thursday to address the situation surrounding the national anthem performance on opening night. 

Sevyn Streeter was slated to sing the anthem Wednesday. She said she was replaced that night for wearing a shirt that said "We Matter.” On Thursday, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo brought in a representative from the organization to meet with the team for around 40 minutes. 

“I think right now everybody’s learning what’s gone on, trying to gather information,” Brett Brown, who heard of the news Thursday morning, said. “Clearly our players are concerned and we hear them. We’re with them. I’m with them. I think how it’s handled going forward, how we share an inclusive sort of decision on how we deal with this moving forward will be discussed later. But right now it has been brought to the players’ attention and my attention.”

CBS3 reported Thursday that Streeter had signed a contract that barred her from making a political statement during the performance.

Brown was asked by a reporter if he would like amends to be made to Streeter.

“I think all that is on the table,” Brown said. “I think how we handle it as a group is going to be thoroughly discussed. We understand the situation and we respect the social issue involved. We completely get it. As a group, we will try to find a way to deal with this.”

The team is considering numerous options, Nik Stauskas said. He recounted there was a sense of disappointment among the players that Streeter was not able to sing. 

“I think the team, not only do we want to speak up on the matter that happened yesterday, but I feel like we’re now starting to push, like it’s not just about saying something, it’s about making a difference,” he said. “It’s about going out there and doing something. So we don’t really know what we’re going to do yet, but I know a lot of guys on this team are eager to go out there and make a difference one way or another.”

Robert Covington said many of the players were “kind of thrown off” when finding out what transpired. 

“Collectively, we talked about it, everybody expressed their emotions about it,” Covington said. “We know that we want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things. That’s one thing that, as a team, we’re very aware of now that the whole incident’s happened. It’s not something we’re going to look over. It’s just a matter of time.”

The Sixers have not set a timeline of when they will decide on a next step. Their next game is Saturday afternoon at home against the Hawks.