The Philadelphia 76ers have had an interesting few months. They finished the regular season behind the Knicks, but managed to hit what win what will forever be known as the “2012 playoff 8th seed lottery – trouncing the Bulls to the rhythmic sounds of Chicago players’ knee ligaments popping like Fourth of July firecrackers. The Knicks, meanwhile, “won” the right to get smacked around by the eventual world-champion Heat, leading to one of the all-time mind-blowing ironies in the history of Knicks fandom: New York fans cursing their team for winning too much.
I don’t know about y’all, but I’m still bitter.
Now the Sixers have revamped their roster with the amnestification of Elton Brand and last week’s mega-trade. So long, Elton. You can take solace in the fact that most Knicks fans are happy to see you in the other conference. Brand built something of a reputation as a Knick-killer in his time with the Sixers. In fact, his numbers against the Knicks in three games last season – 12PPG and 10RPG – weren’t much better than his overall season line of 11 and 7 per game. But he really killed the Knicks in 10-11, posting a ridiculous-for-Brand 26.3PPG in four games. Hmm…so a big man posted huge numbers against the Knicks two years ago but was held mostly in check last year. It would almost seem as if the Knicks’ interior defense miraculously improved sometime between 10-11 and 11-12. Did they add someone – perhaps someone whose first name calls to mind an ear-biting former heavyweight boxer and/or a chicken company? If so, perhaps this gentleman deserves some kind of award for his defense!
Gone too is Andre Iguodala, the face of their franchise since the Iverson trade. Poor guy – is there a more thankless job in all of sports than Face of a Philadelphia Franchise? I think Iggy was crucial in establishing their identity the past few years – an athletic team that wins with defense, especially on the perimeter – but they have enough depth at the wing to absorb his loss in stride.
They managed to flip Iguodala for Andrew Bynum, a potentially dominate two-way center with injury and attitude concerns and a year left before on his contract. The deal certainly makes sense on paper, but there are a few things that might sabotage this deal for Philly…not that I’m rooting for that outcome, -wink,wink-.
The Sixers have been somewhat snakebitten when it comes to acquiring big men the past few years. I remember what it was like in 2005 when they traded for Chris Webber – I was in college in PA at the time, and the Sixer fans were euphoric. In hindsight their optimism seems pretty hilarious, considering the fact that Webber was coming off microfracture surgery: “We get all of Webber’s on-court neuroses and diva attitude, but without any of that transcendent athletic ability…where can I buy tickets to the Finals?” Webber shot below 40% the rest of that season and was complete liability on defense. He never performed up to expectations or clicked with the fans – big surprise – and found himself bought out of his deal a year and a half later. Elton Brand signed in 2008 with similarly high expectations. He was injured his first season with the team and pretty much played like a shell of his former self for most of his four years with the team. He never performed up to expectations or clicked with the fans and found himself bought out of his contract at the end of this season (where have I heard that before?)
Into this breach steps Andrew Bynum. His injury history is a concern, of course, but he is coming off his healthiest season in six years. What’s most interesting to me, however, is the potential for drama. For the Sixers, the success of deal hinges on Bynum signing an extension with the club. The front office can offer him more money, but they, as well as the fans, have to convince him that Philly isn’t a toxic cesspool of bitterness and blame that can break even the most hardened athlete. Yeah…good luck with that. Andrew Bynum has proven time and again in his time with the Lakers that he isn’t the most stable guy around – see: his bizarre three-point shooting controversy last year and his pathetic attack on JJ Barea at the end of Mavs series in 2011. This seems like a guy who has problems dealing with negativity and adversity. His act had worn thin on LA fans, a group who would probably describe themselves as “forgiving” and would definitely be described by East Coast fans as “spoiled bandwagon d-bags.” And now he’s moving to Philadelphia.
How do I see this playing out? I for one see Bynum getting into a huge fight with Spencer Hawes, the Sixers backup center and founder of the NBA chapter of the John Birch Society. Sixers training camp will be in October, just as the presidential election coverage reaches a fever pitch. Maybe Hawes says something about Obama. Maybe Bynum says something about Paul Ryan’s budget. Maybe some epithets are exchanged. Maybe a duel is declared. Do you realize it has been nearly three years since a pair of NBA teammates pulled guns on one another? The Hawes – Bynum combo seems as good a bet as any to break that drought. I only hope they have the good sense to use old-timey, single-shot flintlock pistols. Anything less would be uncivilized.