Don't Write Off Andrew Bynum Just Yet

Don't Write Off Andrew Bynum Just Yet

Yeah, the news is pretty bad. With Saturday's revelation from GM Tony DiLeo that all timetables for Andrew Bynum's return—to the 76ers, to basketball activity, to a quasi-normal hair level—have been put on hold, it appears that most of our worst fears about Bynum have been confirmed (or at the very least, validated). Nothing is certain yet, but it's seeming more and more probable that all of the following are the case:

1. Andrew Bynum will very likely not play a single minute for the Philadelphia 76ers this regular season.

2. If the team makes the playoffs, Bynum will very likely not play with them in the post-season.

3. In the off-season, Bynum will very likely still land a high, possibly max-level contract in free agency, which the Sixers will have to decide whether to match and/or exceed without having seen him play in a year (and never for the 76ers).

4. If the Sixers do sign Bynum to a deal in the off-season, he'll very likely still be recovering from injury (or from the eventual season-ending surgery he might have later this year) and will not be ready opening day or for some time into the season.

5. If the Sixers do re-sign Bynum and he eventually does return to the lineup, there's no guarantee he will ever be fully healthy (or fully at the level he was playing at eight months ago), and he will very likely continue to miss significant chunks of playing time for the remainder of his career.


Yeah, it's like that. Yet even with all that said—and it's a whole lot to say, for sure—I'm still going to try to tell you why it's too early to close the book on Andrew Bynum as a Philadelphia 76er, and why the team very likely will and/or should pursue re-signing him in the off-season, despite all the countless risks and red flags.

First and foremost, forget about this season. It was never about this season. Now, that's a tough thing to swallow for those of us who have stuck through the team through the half-decade of post-Iverson mediocrity—four low-seed post-season appearances in five years, only one (injury-assisted) playoff series win—and were thinking that with Bynum's arrival, something was finally going to be different this year. The fanbase—what's left of it at this point—is fed up with all the averageness, and to be asked to be patient for another year isn't what anybody wants to hear.

But the goal in landing Bynum wasn't to compete for a championship in 2011-12. The goal was to grow a core that could eventually contend over the course of Bynum's five-year deal, after he hopefully re-signed with us in the off-season. With Bynum, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young locked up (and Evan Turner likely to follow), the Sixers hoped to have a consistent team in place that would have several years of playing together while each player was still in their basketball prime—Bynum would just be turning 26 at the start of the '13-'14 season, and he'd be the oldest of the quartet—and with some growing together, and a couple nice complementary pieces, could be a real threat in the Eastern Conference for at least three or four seasons.

So regardless of what happens this year—whether Bynum never plays a minute, whether the Sixers felt they were dealt damaged goods by L.A., whether they're still miffed at him for going bowling without written permission—none of it should matter a lick when it comes to re-signing him in the off-season. The only important thing is what they think Bynum will be capable of moving forward, and if they think he'll still be able to be healthy and productive, then they shouldn't hold any of this season's travails against him.

Of course, that's a big, big if. It's possible that the myriad injuries Bynum has suffered through this season will all eventually heal and not re-appear, but given that the injuries came outside of game action (and given Andrew's prior history with leg injuries, causing him to miss over 15 games in all but two of his seven NBA seasons before this one), not too many betting men would wager on that happening. More likely, leg issues will plague him for his entire career in some form or another.

But if the Sixers check Bynum out in the off-season—and hopefully do a more thorough job than they did the last off-season—and conclude that there's no specific reason to believe he'll never be healthy again, then I think they'll still probably be better off rolling the dice with him again. Even if Bynum's seven years in LA were injury-plagued, he was around enough to help the Lakers win a pair of championships, and establish himself as the league's second-best seven-plus-footer. If he could give the Sixers an average of 55 healthy games a year for five years, and be around to play in four of the post-seasons, I think we still take that in a heartbeat.

Because here's the thing: The Sixers aren't getting another Andrew Bynum anytime soon. It was practically a miracle that they got him in the first place (even if it doesn't feel particularly miraculous at the moment), and to expect another All-Star caliber center still in his best years to become available to the Sixers in the next five years is decidedly impractical.

There's only three ways to get a player like Bynum (or any other player, for that matter)—by trading for him, drafting him, or picking him up in free agency. Even if a Bynum-level big somehow emerged on the trade market, the Sixers no longer have the assets to trade for one, having given up their last two first-round draftees to get Drew the first time around, and dealing a couple future first-rounders in the off-season as well. Unless Arnett Moultrie grows into the second coming of Serge Ibaka, or unless the team is willing to part with Evan Turner, the team won't have either the draft picks or the cheap, young players to package with a Spencer Hawes or Jason Richardson to make a blockbuster deal work. Drafting another Andrew Bynum isn't impossible, but it's going to be hard to do as long as the team keeps picking just inside or outseide oft he lottery, as they're likely to do with this set of players—and I don't see the team committing to tanking for one as long as Doug Collins is the coach, certainly.

That leaves one remaining avenue: Free agency. Could the Sixers get a big of Bynum's caliber on the open market? They could make a run at Al Jefferson or Josh Smith in the off-season, but neither fit the team's needs as well as a healthy Bynum, and both might require clearing some cap space (as well as declining to re-sign the likes of Dorell Wright and/or Nick Young) to do so. And regardless of who they target, with the CBA rules the way they are and with Philadelphia not a particularly attractive market to prospective free agents, the Sixers will always be fighting against the tide to land a big fish in free agency—as opposed to with Andrew Bynum, where Philly should have the inside track in re-signing him by being able to offer him more money than anybody else.

And if a Bynum-caliber player doesn't become available to the Sixers in the next few years, then what? We can use our cap space to plug little holes in the lineup—a backup point guard here, a defensive wing there—but as just about anybody inside or outside the NBA will tell you, only 15-20 players in the league really matter. Only those 15 or so players make bad teams good and make good teams great, and without at least one of those guys, you can only scrap your way to so many wins on grit and toughness and teamwork. Star power almost always wins in the end, and if all the Sixers do is solidify their team around their current core, the best they can hope for is to be the Atlanta Hawks of the last five years, winning about 50 games every year and getting demolished in the second round.

And here's the other thing—the Sixers are really close to being really good. Jrue Holiday appears to have taken the next step and then some, cementing his status as a top-flight point guard in the Eastern Conference and likely elbowing his way into All-Star contention with last night's dominant 33-point, 13-assist performance against the Suns. Right behind him is Evan Turner, leading the Sixers in rebounding from the wing, improving his efficiency as a scorer and playmaker, and seeming to find a way to contribute every game, even when his shot is off. If both those guys continue on their current development paths, it's not hard to see them emerging as the second and third-best players on a contending team a year or two down the line.

Surrounding them, the rest of the team appears to have fallen into place as well. Jason Richardson is the best deep threat the Sixers have had since Kyle Korver, if not longer. Thaddeus Young basically is who he is at this point, a solid, undersized power forward who'll chip in with scoring and rebounding every night but rarely dominate, but if he's your fourth or fifth best player, you're doing OK. Spencer Hawes is overpaid, but for a backup center, you could certainly do a lot worse. Lavoy Allen and Dorell Wright are quality rotation guys, and Nick Young is...well, he's Nick Young. There's a real team here, one that can be good (and very possibly even better than good) for a long time.

But it all revolves around Andrew Bynum. He's the missing piece, the guy who makes everybody else's role on the team make sense. With him we're a complete unit, without him we're undersized and out-rebounded and perpetually one scorer short. With him on the sideline, someone on the team is always getting overexposed—whether it be Kwame or Spencer getting too many minutes, Jrue or Evan taking too many shots, or Thaddeus or Lavoy getting beaten for too many rebounds. This team needs Andrew Bynum, or someone like him, to be great—and for better or worse, there aren't too many players like Andrew Bynum out there for the taking in the NBA.

So the team might have to take a chance. Hell, it might have to take a really, really big chance. I'm not advising they threw caution to the wind, mind you—if Bynum's legs are just done, never to recover, then get their medical team to ascertain that information and send him merrily on his way. But if they take a look at him next off-season and see another calculated risk...I'd hope they think long and hard about taking it, even if the odds are decent it blows up in their faces. For a franchise that has been slightly above-average for so long, I think the chance of being great is worth more than the certainty of being decent.

Of course, maybe this is all premature. Maybe Bynum recovery goes better than planned, he helps lead the Sixers on a deep playoff run, and all agree that an extension in the off-season is for the best. But if you're skeptical of that, and you probably should be, I hope you're not totally writing him off as a sunk cost just yet. We need him too bad, and worked too hard to get him, to just let him get away that easily. And if the Sixers do let Bynum walk, and fail to get another big of his equal in the off-season, I hope it triggers a full-on rebuild. At that point, I'll probably be in favor of any move that allows us to escape another seventh or eighth seed.

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

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Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.