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?

Sixers have hurdles to clear with draft picks before summer league

Sixers have hurdles to clear with draft picks before summer league

Summer league action begins on July 4 and the Sixers are working through constructing their roster for both Utah and Las Vegas. 

The Sixers expect first overall pick Ben Simmons to participate, but formalities have to be taken care of first. First-round picks cannot sign their NBA contract until July 1. After the paperwork is finalized, he can take the court for his new team.

“We just need to work out all the details and try to get that all taken care of,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday. “Once that is addressed and discussed and taken care of, there shouldn’t be anything that would hold that process up. We’ll get the ink on paper as soon as possible. I think it’ll be a clear path at that point.”

Simmons deferred to his agent, Rich Paul, when asked about his participation. 

“You would like for a guy to step in there, but obviously there are some things that, me personally, I’m going to have to protect him with,” Paul said. “If everything is good, then we look forward to it. Until then, we’ll see what happens.” 

Paul added, “I think we’ll be OK, but you just never know.”

The Sixers will compete in summer leagues in both Utah and Las Vegas. They will begin practicing in Utah on July 1 and play games July 4-7. The team will then travel to Las Vegas for the Samsung NBA Summer League, where their first game is July 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers and No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram. The summer league in Las Vegas is tournament-style, with the championship game on July 18. 

There is more work involved for the Sixers’ 24th pick, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, because of his international contract with Mega Leks in Serbia. 

“I believe Luwawu is subject to playing,” Colangelo said. “The only thing that would stop him from being available and able to sign a contract is that process of the three-party agreement, the buyout and the FIBA clearance before he can sign a contract.”

Furkan Korkmaz, the 26th overall pick, is not expected to play as he is participating with the Turkish national team. 

“I would just put that as a no, highly unlikely because of the circumstances,” Colangelo said. 

Dario Saric has until July 17 to notify his team in Turkey if he will play for them next season or join the Sixers. Even if Saric makes his decision during the summer league period, Colangelo said it would be “highly or not likely” that he participates because he recently completed his season. There is no new update on Saric’s impending decision. 

The Sixers will round out their summer league rosters with current players and free-agent signings. T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes and Christian Wood are expected to play. James Webb III, who participated in a pre-draft workout for the Sixers, signed a deal with the team following the draft and is expected to participate in summer league (see story)

'The Process' still reigns in Bryan Colangelo's first Sixers draft

'The Process' still reigns in Bryan Colangelo's first Sixers draft

If you didn’t know who was saying the words, if you simply closed your eyes and listened — absent any inflection or accent that might give away the speaker’s identity — the remarks would have sounded awfully consistent with other statements given in similar situations over the last few years. The words “patience” and “process” were employed, which is standard stuff considering the organization. And yet it was a bit jarring, because the man who uttered all those things this time around is decidedly different than the man who preceded him.

When the first round of the 2016 NBA draft was finished, Bryan Colangelo addressed the media assembly at PCOM. The Sixers took Ben Simmons with the first overall pick, as expected. But despite ceaseless reports and rumors, they did not unload Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor to move back into the lottery, nor did they jettison the 24th or 26th picks. Those decisions were somewhat less expected. What followed was a rather remarkable explanation given the organization’s open desire to advance the rebuild and regain relevance in the league (or some semblance of it).

“This is a work in progress that will continue throughout the summer,” Colangelo said. “We have free agency on the horizon. There were numerous trade scenarios that we looked at. We didn’t feel like any of those trade scenarios would put us in a position where we want to be moving forward. So we took a patient approach. We passed on a few opportunities where we could have reached. We decided that, whether it was retaining assets, particularly future assets, future picks, we still feel like this was the right process to follow.”

Draft night could have gone sideways for the Sixers, and fast. An initial report had the Sixers offering Noel, Robert Covington and the 24th and 26th picks to the Celtics for the third pick, ostensibly so they could annex Kris Dunn. A subsequent report had the Sixers offering the same package to the Timberwolves for the fifth pick, ostensibly so they could annex Kris Dunn. None of it came to fruition, and afterward Colangelo called the trade rumors false and insisted that those rumors didn’t come from the Sixers. You can believe that or dismiss it as post-draft propaganda and damage control. Who leaked what for which purposes matters less than the ultimate outcome — the fact the Sixers, under new management, chose to keep building rather than pressing the detonation plunger on their still on-going construction project.

Whether the Sixers stay committed to the slow-and-steady, asset-accumulation approach is still very much in doubt. As everyone knows, and as Colangelo admitted, they have a clogged frontcourt that needs to be addressed. That’s tricky stuff. But while we wait to see how Colangelo solves that problem, he should be commended for not simply taking a sledgehammer to the issue. That’s what the Noel/Covington/24/26 deal would have been: a big blow to a situation that requires a more delicate solution. The Sixers must move either Noel or Okafor in time, but as Colangelo rightly pointed out, they shouldn’t do it just for the sake of it. Better to keep everyone in house, awkward fit and all, and retain valuable assets until a more useful resolution presents itself.

Beyond that, the Sixers made two fascinating picks at the end of the first round, taking French wing Timothe Luwawu 24th and Turkish guard Furkan Korkmaz 26th. Both guys are the kinds of young, raw players with future potential that might have been favored by the previous administration (and both got rave reviews from the Trust the Process/Rights to Ricky Sanchez crowd). It’s uncertain whether their respective buyouts will permit them to play for the Sixers this coming season or whether one or both will be stamped with draft-and-stash status. Either way, they were smart picks with upside that make sense for a team that wants to add as much talent as possible while avoiding moves that would rush the roster back to the NBA’s dreaded mediocre middle.

As Colangelo said, the roster is far from set. The Sixers have lots of decisions still to make. It’s possible they scrap the patience and process approach in the coming weeks/months and overreach in an attempt to supercharge the rebuild. But for now, what they did on draft night gets full marks. They resisted the urge to do something for the sake of it and at the expense of the future. That’s encouraging.

What is Ben Simmons? No. 1 pick's position 'hard to measure'

What is Ben Simmons? No. 1 pick's position 'hard to measure'

The Sixers on Thursday selected Ben Simmons out of LSU with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.

Now the question is: What is Simmons?

We know the basics. He's 6-foot-10, 242 pounds and an excellent rebounder. He also has the ball skills and court vision of a guard. So where does head coach Brett Brown plan on using his newest weapon? He said who Simmons defends will determine his position more than anything.

"I feel like he is going to be able to guard [the four]," Brown said. "He is going to be able to switch out on pick-and-rolls if we choose to do that. It's his history and his instinct to play that spot. Call it a point forward, we all have different names that we would use as an example."

The last time the Sixers had the first overall pick in 1996, they drafted Allen Iverson. Iverson started his career as a point guard out of Georgetown before moving to the off guard. Simmons will start his career as a point forward, but who knows what he'll develop into.

With Simmons' draft status will come some lofty expectations. Add that to what the Sixers' fan base has endured: a combined 47-199 record in the last three seasons preceded by 12 seasons of mediocrity or worse. That's a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old kid.

Brown recognizes that and doesn't want to put too much on Simmons' plate. At least not right away.

"We've known about this pick for a while," Brown said. "There were times that if you caught me I would think that I just want to treat him as a true point guard. Just give him the ball.

"You can go back and forth but I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA. I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Versatility is huge in today's NBA. Luckily for Simmons, his dad Dave, a professional player for Brown in Australia, developed him like a guard despite his size. He's on board with Brown's vision.

"I think I'll be a point forward," Simmons said. "Anywhere where I'm grabbing the ball, setting up plays or pushing the ball on the break. ... At a young age, my dad put the ball in my hands and told me to dribble, so at a young age I had that mentality of being a point guard while I was bigger than most kids."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo didn't want to get into labels when discussing Simmons. 

He's discussed with Brown how best to utilize Simmons, but said ultimately it doesn't matter what position he plays. Just that he's in the lineup.

"We talk all the time, debating how to best characterize him as a player," Colangelo said of Simmons. "The best way to characterize him is just as a basketball player. He's a facilitator, he's a distributor, he's a scorer, he's a rebounder."

Players with Simmons' skill set are rare but not completely new to the NBA. We've watched the Golden State Warriors use Draymond Green as a point forward. Green was utilized at the five on occasion in head coach Steve Kerr's "death lineup."

A more favorable comparison may be to the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The "Greek Freak" is listed at 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan. He's crazy athletic and handles the ball much better than a typical player of his stature.

Brown said that Simmons will be used similarly to both players, but it's difficult to define roles so early in the process.

"If you look at Antetokounmpo," Brown said, "he came in this gangly, long player and the second part of (last season) after the All-Star break [Bucks head coach Jason Kidd] played him as a point guard. And I don't know [what Simmons' position will ultimately be]. I just know that he is that versatile and that it's a good problem to figure out. "

Simmons is ready to assume whatever role he's asked to play, including point guard duties.

"You can really put me at any position on the court and it could work," Simmons said. "I think taking my time (will allow me to develop into a point guard). It's going to take time, but I'm willing to put that work in so I think anything's really possible."

"You're talking about a 6-10, versatile, skilled player that's going to affect the game in so many ways," Colangelo said. "It's hard to measure."