No Bynum means no relevance for Sixers

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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?

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Pockets of NBA players have increasingly started to speak up about what they believe to be racial and social injustices taking place in the United States.

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem sparking protests from other players around the NFL and various sports, now the NBA as a whole is preparing for potential protests prior to games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association union executive director Michele Roberts came together last week to formulate a joint letter to players to express how the two sides plan to take "meaningful action."

Whatever that action is, Sixers veteran Elton Brand is all for it and the overall discussion of issues going on around the country.

"There are e-mails and direct texts from the NBPA. We’re working with the NBA. They’re going to talk to us soon,” Brand said. “My thing is if you want to stand up for something, that’s a good thing. Especially in America, the tensions and the injustices that are going on right now. 

“Even in our locker room we’re discussing who feels like this, who feels like what and ways that we can display how we feel about things. I’m all for it. I stand behind it and stand with other athletes and people that want to stand for a cause. Whatever their cause is, they want to stand for a cause. Our cause may be different.”

The NBA is significantly more diverse than the NFL, and Brand even admitted it’s been an eye-opening experience having talks about issues affecting African Americans inside a locker room with players from around the globe.

“We have a lot of international players,” he said. “I’m looking around the room and there are seven people that aren’t from this country. So you talk about the flag, talk about the constitution and to them it’s like, ‘I represent America because I’m working here, but I’m pro-Spain and I have problems there, too.’ We’re all sorting it out. We’ve had discussions internally also. I’m looking forward to what the NBPA and the NBA have to offer."

What the league and players association come up with will likely serve as something other than protesting during the actual anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule in place that explicitly states players, coaches and trainers must stand on the foul line or sidelines in a dignified posture during the playing of national anthems.

If Sixers players do ultimately decide on some sort of protest before games, they will have the support of the organization to express their rights.

"We haven't been together collectively long enough to have a real robust discussion about it," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said. "I think we just addressed it briefly this morning with the players in an opportunity to say the following. Basically, we as an organization are going to be supportive of the views of our players. As the league and the players association formulate perhaps an approach, they've already circulated some information to teams. Things are probably still at the discussion phase. I hope to think that's where things are with our players, that they're still at the discussion phase. 

"Once again, I'm assuming that there will be a desire to express an opinion or viewpoint. I've always been supportive of people in society having freedom to express a viewpoint. Again, going back to the league and the players association, in a positive way I think they've always been out in front of some of these social issues and if they can affect social change in a positive way they probably will. You can just anticipate that there's still some unknowns to this, but you can estimate that we will be supportive as an organization as to how our players want to express their views."

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The long wait could be over next week.

Joel Embiid expects to play in the Sixers' first preseason game Oct. 4 at UMass-Amherst against the Celtics, he said Monday at media day.

“The first thing for me is just get back on the court,” Embiid said of his expectations this season. “It looks like in a couple days I’m going to have the chance to do that.”

Embiid has missed the past two seasons since being drafted third overall because of foot injuries. Even though he is taking his rookie year one step at a time, he has a positive long-term outlook given how healthy he feels. 

“I’m confident that I’m going to have a long, successful career,” he said. “From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have a 20-year career.”

Embiid has grown as a player and a person during his recovery. He noted had he been competing in an 82-game season, he would not have had as much time to dedicate on his development. As a result of the specialized workouts and the hours he has spent in an individual practice format, he has improved his shooting and gained strength and speed. 

“What I was two years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better ... I’m not the same guy. I’m different.”

Embiid has been following a well-mapped out rehab plan during which he has had to adhere to restrictions, and will continue to do so this season. He admits the restrictions have been frustrating, but he now understands they are being implemented for his best interest long term. The lengthy recovery has forced him to change his outlook on maintaining his health. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab, going through that, the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor [said] you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to what people have to say.”

Head coach Brett Brown wants Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense. Embiid, who stands at a towering 7-foot-2, 275 pounds, is ready to embrace those expectations. He has studied tape of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, among others. Embiid likes the game of Marc Gasol and appreciates how DeAndre Jordan communicates as a big man. 

“I love playing defense,” he said. “I hate when the other team scores.”

Embiid's debut will be the culmination of years of work. Now that the season is approaching, he is eager to count down the days. 

“I’m really excited,” Embiid said. “I’ve gone through a lot and it’s been two years. The fact that I’m healthy now and ready to get back on the court, I just can’t wait.”