Bynum returns to Philly 'a shell' of himself

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Bynum returns to Philly 'a shell' of himself

Andrew Bynum claims he will play Friday night when his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, play his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bynum was hardly a fan favorite last season when he came to town with great expectations and fanfare, and left having never played a game because of two bad knees.

“I got bad news with diagnosis on my knees, but I tried to get back endlessly,” Bynum said Thursday after the Cavaliers practiced at Temple University. “And the frustrating part was getting almost there and then to keep having setbacks.

“It is still career threatening. I am a shell of myself on the court right now. I am struggling mentally, but I am trying.”

Bynum tried last season, but things just never panned out for him in a Sixers uniform. Not that the big man is too upset about letting down the Philadelphia fans.

"I honestly don't really care," Bynum said. "I don't know how they will treat me. I was hurt. It is what it is, and I'm still hurt. But I'm still trying."

Bynum has played 51 minutes over four games for the Cavs so far this season and is averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Those statistics pale in comparison to his 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds he averaged when he was named an All-Star two seasons ago.

“In the moment it is tough to enjoy the game because of where I am but I am struggling to work through that,” Bynum said. “I feel like I can still be effective in this league but I am going to have to make changes to my game and it is about accepting those challenges.”

“As an organization we don’t want to rush it,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We don’t have any expectations of him right now except for him to keep working and that is what he has been doing.”

Zero expectations: The exact opposite of what Bynum experienced when he joined the Sixers franchise. Keep in mind that the Sixers traded All-Star Andre Iguodala, second-year player Nik Vucevic (who had 30 points and 21 rebounds on Wednesday night against the Clippers), rookie Maurice Harkless and a future first-round pick.

Cleveland signed Bynum as a free agent and guaranteed him $6 million of a possible $16 million over two years.

One team put all their chips in and lost. The other gambled just a little.

Instead of being a centerpiece in Cleveland, Bynum is just another guy trying to play the backup center role.

“It’s been good,” Bynum said of his limited minutes. “Andy [Varejao] has been playing great, which is a great help to me and has allowed me to sit back and accept that role-playing responsibility in the moment. We all know if things were going bad there it would be painful, but I am happy he is playing well and I am going to keep trying to play.”

Varejao is averaging 10.2 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes a night as the Cavs' starting center, leaving Bynum to to play between 15 and 19 minutes per game.

If Bynum can work through his mental struggles and accept the physical skills he is left with, Brown thinks his future can still be bright.

“You take a player like Zydrunas Ilgauskas who had terrible feet problems, and he was able to play after multiple surgeries and sitting out for awhile,” Brown said of the former Cavaliers center. “He was able to do that because he was skilled. He was not as big as Andrew but he was long.”

Ilgauskas played five games in the 1998-99 season. The following year, he did not play a game and in the 2000-01 season he played just 24 games.

His career seemed destined for what has become of Greg Oden, but instead Ilgauskas returned to play 734 games over 10 seasons as an effective scorer and rebounder.

“Ilgaukas was long, skilled and intelligent, and with that you are going to have a chance to play many years even if a guy like Andrew doesn’t get his explosiveness back,” Brown said. “Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But he is working hard to be the player he was before.”

Brett Brown understands Nerlens Noel trade, caught off guard by Ben Simmons news

Brett Brown understands Nerlens Noel trade, caught off guard by Ben Simmons news

Nerlens Noel was essentially the beginning of The Process.

Acquired in a draft day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013, Noel was the last player remaining of those who were on the team when Brett Brown took over as head coach of the Sixers. Drafted No. 6 overall out of Kentucky, Noel missed the entire 2013-14 season recovering from a torn ACL.

That gave Brown the opportunity to work closely with Noel, most notably on his shot.

"Personally, I spent a lot of time with him," Brown said pregame Friday. "To have a whole year where you could help grow his shot. And talk about a total rebuild."

Noel on Thursday was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a top-18 protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. The return doesn't seem great, but there are larger factors at play.

Noel is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer. With the emergence of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on the roster, the center position was (and still is, frankly) crowded. The chances of the Sixers' retaining Noel weren't great. Especially if a team had signed him to an exorbitant offer sheet.

Brown was naturally close to Noel, but understands the business side of the decision.

"I'm happy for him in my heart of hearts," Brown said. "[The Mavericks] have brought him in to grow him to try to be a starting center. That does equal a commensurate paycheck. He will be rewarded if that's the way it plays out.

"That wasn't gonna happen here. It wasn't gonna happen here. And so when you really study salary caps, really study design of teams and really study how to grow a program so you're not caught positionally, it was gonna be hard to allocate that amount of money to a five spot."

Brown got some more tough news when he learned No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons won't play this season. A scan taken Thursday revealed that Simmons' Jones fracture, suffered in early October on the last day of training camp, has not fully healed (see story).

Brown, being the consummate optimist, brought up his experience with Noel in is his rookie season of how a player can still develop despite not getting on the court.

"I'm disappointed for lots of reasons that he isn't going to be able to play," Brown said. "I played text tag with him as he was going to the scan. I felt like when your wife is having a baby, pacing around, wondering, 'What's gonna happen? What's the result of the scan? What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?' I don't mean to get too dramatic, but there's a level of anxiety that you wonder, 'What is the result gonna say?' And when it came back with the result, it caught me off guard. It really wasn't something personally I was expecting."

Sixers president of basketball operation Bryan Colangelo addressed the media Friday to disclose the news on Simmons. He also explained his thinking behind the Noel trade, which mostly hinged on Noel's impending restricted free-agent status (see story).

Brown was sad to see one of his original developmental projects go, but understood the business side of the decision.                     

"I thought he did a really good job," Brown said of Colangelo's press conference. "That is the truth. So it's connected with emotion and reality that we say goodbye to Nerlens."

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor is still a Sixer.

He's not a New Orleans Pelican or a Portland Trail Blazer or a Dallas Maverick. He's not going back home to Chicago or to Indiana to play with Paul George. He's in Philly for at least the next 26 games and he's ready to get to work.

"I was happy that the trade deadline was over with and I knew where I'd be finishing the rest of the season," Okafor said. "After the past couple weeks I couldn't wait until 3 o'clock yesterday would pass, which means I wouldn't have to worry about where I would be and have to deal with all the trade rumors.

"It's a sigh of relief. I'm glad it's over with. I'm still a Sixer so I'm excited about playing tonight."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Friday spoke at length about the team's future. He's said he's planning to build around the team's "transformational players" in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

He also addressed the deal that sent Nerlens Noel to Dallas for a protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. With all of the rumors swirling around Okafor, there wasn't much chatter around Noel.

The biggest reason for Noel's departure is his contract. Noel is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He's a desirable player in today's NBA as a big that can run the floor and offer elite rim protection. Okafor can't become a restricted free agent until 2019.

Colangelo said there was a market for Okafor, but he just couldn't find the right deal.

"The market dictates what’s there and interestingly given our situation with the multiple talented bigs I think it's safe to say people view us as a place to come if they are looking for a big," Colangelo said. "Several bigs were out there and available on the market. A trade went down early. (Jusuf) Nurkic going to Portland. There was some conversation with Jahlil early, some advanced discussions to the point we pulled him out of a game situation just because there was so much at stake given the terms of a proposed transaction."

It seems like Okafor has been on the trade block since the day he was drafted third overall in 2015. With Embiid's emerging as a star and Noel's being the team's longest-tenured big, it had been difficult to see Okafor's long-term fit with the Sixers.

To Okafor's credit, he's taken it all in stride. As Colangelo alluded to, he had "advanced" talks on a deal that would send Okafor to Portland. The talks got serious enough to where Okafor was held out of a win over the Heat and began the handshaking ritual of a player on the move. He was also held out of the next game in Charlotte.

Through all of it, Okafor wasn't bitter. He just quietly kept working.

"I never looked at me being shopped as a negative thing," Okafor said. "It's just part of the business... I am here so there are no hard feelings or anything like that. No, not at all.

"I never felt disconnected from the team. When I wasn't traveling with the team I was still here in the facility with [Embiid and Simmons]. I was never just at home alone or anything like that. I was still with the team. Some of the coaches would stay back so I always felt connected with the Sixers."

Okafor will get his first action of the second half of the season tonight against the Wizards. He's been dealing with knee soreness, a result of a surgery to repair a torn meniscus last March. He said Friday afternoon that he's feeling healthy after the All-Star Break and the Rising Stars Challenge.

After all the speculation and rumors, Okafor just wants to play basketball.

"I think it's something a lot of players in the NBA have to deal with," he said. "We're all basketball players. We want to play well for ourselves and for our team.

"Whatever happens in a few months, we'll see what happens then. Right now I'm just worried about playing these last 26 games and playing well for the city and playing well for the team. "