Four scenarios for Sixers to resolve Bynum situation

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Four scenarios for Sixers to resolve Bynum situation

The Sixers will return to the court on Saturday night. Andrew Bynum will not.

The Sixers have 22 wins and 30 losses. They have been an up-and-down (mostly down) team, a hit-or-miss (mostly miss) squad in the midst of an unspectacular season that is quickly funneling toward a conclusion that won’t include the playoffs unless something spectacular and unexpected happens.

That spectacular and unexpected thing would be Bynum getting healthy and playing well and carrying the listless Sixers on a back supported by two bad knees. On Tuesday, Bynum said he’s 100 percent certain he’ll play this year. You’re forgiven if you’re 100 percent skeptical.

Not long ago, Bynum said he hoped to return right after the All-Star break. Then, he modified his schedule and said the “target” for his return was February. And now he says he won’t practice for a week or two, which would put him into March.

The Sixers have 30 games remaining. If Bynum doesn’t practice for another two weeks, that would be around March 8. There are nine games between now and then. Delete them all, and the Sixers would be down to 21 games. But then Bynum would have to practice for a little while before competing. Subtract at least another week -- at least three more outings -- and the Sixers would have 18 games remaining before Bynum plays. That’s if all goes well, which it hasn’t so far.

This thing is a huge mess. There are four possible scenarios now. None of them are good for the Sixers.

Bynum plays and the Sixers don’t re-sign him
Even if he can get on the court for the last 18 games (I’d take the under on that number if you’re a gambler), that’s such a small sample size that it would be impossible to know how (or if) he’ll hold up next year and the year after and the year after that. He’s 25, he has two bad knees and he’s already missed the majority of this season. That hardly inspires confidence.

Bynum is a free agent after this year. If the Sixers let him walk, or if he decides to walk on his own, the team would clear about $16.4 million off the books. That would give the organization money to spend in free agency. The problem is that the 2013 free agent class isn’t tailored to the Sixers’ many needs.

Top-tier players like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul aren’t coming to Philadelphia. The more you look at the list, the more you’ll see that the Sixers would be down to courting guys such as Josh Smith or Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Even if one of them excites you, are any of them worth big-money contracts? And do any of them make the Sixers contenders in the East? (The answer to both questions is no.)

Bynum plays and the Sixers re-sign him
During All-Star weekend, Kobe Bryant told Dei Lynam that Bynum “is a phenomenal player.” What he should have said: Bynum “was a phenomenal player.” We know what he used to be. We don’t know what he is at the moment, and we don’t know what he will (or won’t) be in the future. 

If Bynum returns and plays around 18 games, how can the Sixers possibly use such a limited audition to evaluate his health and worth? Last year, in a lockout-shortened season, Bynum played 60 regular-season games and 12 more in the postseason. He looked good and healthy. Then, he came to Philly and looked the opposite. If you couldn’t predict his value after 72 games, how can you do it after, at most, 18? And then, if they do re-sign him, what if this tiresome saga drags out and his health continues to be a problem? It would be disastrous on the court, and it would be equally damaging to the franchise from a PR perspective.

Bynum doesn’t play and the Sixers don’t re-sign him
This might be the best outcome for the Sixers. Even though the 2013 free agent class appears to have limited options for them, the Sixers would at least get someone healthy. Ostensibly. You can apparently never be too sure these days.

After a year of bad publicity in which media members and fans have criticized the Sixers, this might be the easiest one to spin. It’s the cut-their-losses scenario. The Sixers admit they gambled and lost, then resolve to move on with a different, less-perilous plan.

Bynum doesn’t play and the Sixers re-sign him
For the Sixers, this is the go-for-broke/in-for-a-penny, in-for-millions-of-dollars-more gambit. It would be the basketball equivalent of buying an expensive lottery ticket, scratching off the panel with glee, losing, frowning and then buying the same lottery ticket again -- only for more money while knowing that, if it doesn’t pay off this time, you’re going to end up in an NBA soup kitchen for many years to come.

“Would I be a risk?" Bynum asked. “I don’t know because I don’t do risk assessment.”

I don’t do risk assessment. You probably don’t, either. And yet everyone knows Bynum is a huge risk -- everyone but Bynum and the Sixers, evidently.

None of these scenarios are good. The Sixers are in a horrible spot and they’re facing an impossible decision with no right or clear answer. If I was a member of the front office and I had to pick one of the above possibilities, I’d lean toward the third. It’s the easiest way out for everyone -- which isn’t the same as ensuring the best conclusion to this frightful tale.

The Sixers have written a choose-their-own-adventure novel. They will be forced to pick a path and turn the page soon. The problem is that all of their options are ugly and fraught with danger.

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brett Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media.

Once the deal was made official, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo released a statement. 

“We want to wish Nerlens the best of luck in Dallas and thank him for his contributions over the last few years," Colangelo said. "Justin Anderson is a talented, strong and defensive-minded wing who will fit nicely in Brett’s system. I’m certain Justin’s toughness and edge will add a tremendous amount to our team."

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter (see story).

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”