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.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

Sixers, Magic get glimpse into future with young talent on full display

The Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic on Friday was not the game to watch for those looking for competitive basketball, as the Magic needed just three quarters to put the game out of reach (see Instant Replay).

What the game did have was some of the NBA’s top young talent.

Friday night featured six first-round picks from the 2014 NBA draft. Joel Embiid (No. 3), Aaron Gordon (No. 4), Nik Stauskas (No. 8), Elfrid Payton (No. 10) and Dario Saric (No. 12) were all lottery selections in 2014.

Add in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and Magic guard Mario Hezonja, who were both top-five picks in 2015, and that’s seven top-12 picks from the last three draft classes, not even counting the injured Ben Simmons.

“Basketball’s a small world, you grow up playing these guys," Gordon said of the Sixers. "Those guys are talented. They have a young group of guys that are going to get better and better each time they play.”

Though he played only 27 minutes, Embiid finished the game with 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists for the Sixers (see story). Okafor had a double-double of his own, adding 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Gordon, who is averaging 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, led the Magic with 20 points and also added two rebounds.

“He did pretty good,” Embiid said of Gordon. “He shot the ball pretty well tonight.”

The other four lottery selections struggled a bit. Payton played 24 minutes and finished with two points and four assists, while Hezonja missed both of his shot attempts in just three minutes of playing time.

Stauskas went scoreless, going 0 for 6 from the floor, finishing with five assists and three turnovers, while Saric went 1 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over twice

“It’s just about being patient, really,” Stauskas said. “We know our time will come eventually. It’s just about being patient and continuing to work hard, whether it’s next year or the year after, eventually things are going to click and this team is going to become a legit playoff team in the East, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”

Even with a plethora of top-round talent, the Magic have struggled over the past two seasons, much like the Sixers. Orlando hadn't won more than 25 games in a season since 2012-13 before going 35-47 last year.

Despite the abundance of talent, both teams are waiting for their players to develop. Both the Sixers and Magic entered Friday’s game among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference. If their draft choices pan out, it wouldn't be surprising to see the two teams closer to the top of the conference and right in the thick of the playoff race in a few years. 

“Eventually they’re going to get there,” Magic center Bismack Biyombo said of the Sixers. “Like all young teams, you go through struggles before you face success. That’s just how life is. They have to learn the hard way. We’ve all been through the process like that but you always have to stay patient and see a great future ahead. Obviously they have a lot of talented kids that sooner or later, they’ll know more about the league and establish themselves.”