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?

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid will have to hope NBA coaches trust the process.

Embiid on Thursday was not named a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler locked in the three Eastern Conference frontcourt spots. Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan rounded out the backcourt.

James (25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists) and Antetokounmpo (23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists) were locks as starters. That left Butler, Kevin Love and Embiid as the next in contention. Butler is a two-time All-Star averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 36.8 minutes for the 21-22 Bulls. Love is posting 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 31.6 minutes per game on the Eastern Conference-leading, 29-11 Cavaliers.

The Western Conference starting spots went to Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. 

The voting was made up of fan votes (50 percent), player votes (25 percent) and media votes (25 percent). Embiid has a chance to be voted in by the NBA coaches, whose reserve selections will be announced on Jan. 26. 

Embiid would have been named a starter had the results been based on fan voting (50 percent). He finished third ahead of Love and Butler.

Embiid was in the running for a starting role during a breakout rookie season. He is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Even though his playing time is capped at 28 minutes, he ranks seventh among all players in scoring per 48 minutes. He is eighth overall in free throw attempts per game (7.9) and 10th in those made (6.2).

Embiid had obstacles, though, when it came to the voting: rookie status, 28-minute restriction, limited games played (29) because of his allocated workload, and the Sixers’ record.

Even though the All-Star Game highlights individual achievements, team record is often taken into consideration. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine games (see story), but still stand well below .500 at 14-26.

When it came to the players’ vote, it is hard for a rookie who hasn’t even competed against every team in the league to make a strong enough impression for another player to influence their perception of the top talent. Embiid finished outside of the top five in the players' vote, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, the Sixers' big man finished fifth in the media vote.

Embiid and the Sixers were very active in pushing for the fan votes. Embiid received the social media support of celebrities including Triple H, Kevin Hart and MLB MVP Mike Trout, among others. The Sixers promoted Embiid through a Shirley Temple campaign based on his favorite drink.

Embiid picked up major steam in the last week of voting. He had trailed Love by 16,028 fan votes in the second returns on Jan. 12.

He took to Twitter to express his gratitude.