What happens when you sign a former #1 draft pick, last year's biggest fantasy basketball bust, and the second-best center in the league all in one off-season? You say, "I'm not done," and go out and sign "Nitrous" Nick Young. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the bizarre off-season of the Philadelphia 76ers.
First, let's go over who the 76ers let go during the past few months: Lou Williams, who had a nice season and performed well in the playoffs last year but became expendable with the rising successes of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday; starter Jodie Meeks, who conversely played terrible in last year's postseason; and Elton Brand, who the Sixers amnestied, and yes, surprisingly, still plays basketball for a living and gets paid a lot of money to do so. On to the free-agent moves of the Sixers, and how they will impact the team moving forward:
This article is dedicated to my two friends who are die-hard 76ers fans, Scott Freemer and Jack McCallum.
Andrew Bynum: SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to be talking about the show, Breaking Bad, in some detail during this blurb. So, if you are a person who doesn't watch the best series on television, please scroll down to my Kwame Brown analysis below.
In season 4 of Breaking Bad, Gustavo Fring, Southwestern drug kingpin and owner of the delicious food chain, Los Pollos Hermanos, invites meth-cook Jesse Pinkman over to his house for supper. Jesse and Gus have previously not exactly seen eye-to-eye, but their relationship is changing. Gus is beginning to like Jesse, and asks the former drug addict if he is capable of cooking meth on his own without the aid of his long-time partner, Walter White. If Jesse can't, Gus fears that an all-out war with the Mexican cartel will ensue. Gus asks Pinkman point-blank:
"Can you cook meth solo?"
Although Pinkman is unsure of his abilities, he eventually travels to Mexico with Gus and proves his worth: he is able to cook Walter White's high-quality, blue-meth formula on his own.
I compare Jesse's season-four trajectory to Andrew Bynum's 2011-2012 NBA year. Before the season began, Pau Gasol, Bynum's long-time low-post mate in the lane, was nearly traded to the Rockets in the nullified Chris Paul deal. The Lakers continued to shop Gasol during the year, seeing if they could acquire a talent like Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, or a package from the Bulls including Carlos Boozer. While they explored their options, the Lakers needed confirmation that a Gasol trade would not be for naught.
I can see it now. Jerry Buss, inviting Bynum over for dinner, asking him, in the event of a Pau Gasol trade, in order to potentially prevent an all-out Armageddon where LBJ and co. win the NBA title, Buss asks Bynum:
"If we trade Gasol, can you man the paint solo?"
Now, Gasol didn't get traded during the 2011-2012 campaign and Lebron and co. did win the NBA title. But Bynum finally showed that he is capable of holding his own on the court. A player consistently hampered by injuries, underachieving success, and Kobe Bryant criticism, Bynum only missed six games in the regular season; he put up career-highs in points per game (18.7), rebounds per game (11.7), and minutes per game (35.2); and he showed that he could survive and lead the team to success if the Lakers traded Gasol. Yes, Bynum could man the paint solo. He also developed into the second-best center in the league in the process. Which brings us to the best center in the league...
In Breaking Bad, after Jesse showed he had developed into a perfectionist, expert chemist, and the second-best meth cook this side of ABQ, Gus was ready to trade him to the Mexican cartel for nothing (a deal that, I'd like to think, David Stern would have also tried to nullify, but instead, he would have been forced to resign due to multiple Mexican druglords pointing guns at his head). And although the Pinkman trade never went through, at least the Lakers got more in return for Bynum than what Gus would have gotten in return for Jesse.
Breaking Bad fans: do you trade Walter White (with no chance of the cancer coming back, but a chance he develops a pretty sketchy back injury) for Jesse Pinkman and an aging Mike Ehrmantraut (not a bad comparison to J-Rich: both guys are talented, have produced massively over the course of their careers, were loyal to the teams they played for, but have also lost a step or two in their old age. J-Rich might be a little too flashy for Mike's conservative style, but overall, it works...at least well enough for the purposes of this article)? Walter White/Dwight (Howsenberg? Nah, too easy) carry big egos and volatile personalities. Both Walter and Dwight have tried to get their superiors fired. But they are both, currently, the best at their respective jobs. And Bynum is still a wildcard. Maybe he keeps developing. Or maybe he implodes, going down with continuous injuries and consistently returning to a different kind of rehab than the one Jesse Pinkman is used to.
But I like the Bynum trade for the 76ers, as I feel most people do. Andre Iguodala's production had been steadily declining since 2008 (from 19.9 ppg in 2007-2008 to 12.4 this season) and his continued presence clashed with the team's young, growing core of players like Holiday, Turner, and Thad Young. The Sixers had been trying to rid themselves of Iggy for quite some time (actually, he was mostly rumored to the Lakers for Gasol over the years) as the team was starting to give off a very 2000s Atlanta Hawks stench: a team muddled in mediocrity with a few really good players who aren't great. With Bynum, the 76ers not only got a body to compliment re-signed and improving big man, Spencer Hawes, but they got someone who is still developing into a superstar. Or they got someone who'd rather eat Pollos Hermanos than play basketball. Wait, no, that's not Bynum. That's his backup for this season.
Kwame Brown: From one top-ten high school pick to another. With their season and foreseeable future riding on a high-risk, high-reward 24-year old, the 76ers have decided to back up Bynum, their slightly injury-prone center, with one of the biggest draft busts of all time. After a slow start to his NBA career, Bynum looked like he could have possibly been following in the Kwame Brown mold of high school busts (Eddy Curry, DeSagana Diop, Shaun Livingston to name a few), but soon avoided that label. The original Kwame Brown wasn't so lucky.
Every off-season, I'm always interested to see who loses the "Kwame Brown" sweepstakes by winning the "Kwame Brown" sweepstakes. Kwame is now 30 years old, quite removed from his rookie days when he consistently ate Popeyes Fried Chicken for breakfast and brought French dressing around to every restaurant he went to. This is the guy who told Doug Collins at age 18, "If you draft me, I'll never disappoint you." Has he come to Philly to show his former coach that the KWAAMMEE BROWN of old is gone? The Sixers are going with a familiar, low-risk, low-reward Kwame formula that many teams before them have tried: let's give this guy 1-2 years, roughly $5-$8 million, and, best case scenario, he plays like he did against the Kings that one time, worst case scenario, he's just classic Kwame Brown. In reality, these aren't ridiculous deals for a guy who can still come off the bench and rebound, especially in a league where center after center is getting overpaid. Kwame usually puts up 5 ppg and 5 rbg every season, except for a "renaissance" in Charlotte two years ago when he averaged 8 and 7. He's already played for Collins, alongside Bynum and Dorrell Wright, and for a handful of NBA teams.
Funny fact: he once got arrested for stealing a man's $190 birthday cake. Some would say that's more money than Kwame is worth. Unfunny fact: Before the Bynum trade and the re-signing of Hawes, Kwame was penciled in as the Sixers starting center this year. Whatever. At least he's not the most despised Kwame Brown in D.C. anymore.
So, we've covered the Sixers' frontcourt additions. Check out Part 2 in the coming days to find out what other hilarious shenanigans the 76ers pulled in their backcourt for the upcoming season.