In February of 2005, the Philadelphia 76ers made what was thought to be a blockbuster deal when they acquired Chris Webber from the Sacramento Kings. It was their last effort to pair Allen Iverson an All-Star-caliber player. The Sixers failed to do so in prior attempts with guys like Glenn Robinson, Toni Kukoc and even Dikembe Mutombo (although they had to make that deal and every Sixers fan knows why). C-Webb was 30 years old and only played in 23 games in the season prior due to knee injuries. I guess any time you have a chance to acquire a 30-year-old power forward with major knee problems and a monster, impossible-to-get-out-of contract, you have to do it. This was Billy King‘s last attempt to salvage a very poor run as the Sixers’ general manager, and like times prior, this attempt failed as well.
During the 2008 offseason, the Sixers signed free agent power forward Elton Brand to a five-year, $80 million deal. He was 28 years old at the time and played in just eight games in the season prior to his signing because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. There seems to be a pattern here. Ed Stefanski (who pulled the trigger on the Brand signing) would give Andre Iguodala a max contract a year later, knotting up a huge chunk of the Sixers salary in a declining near-30-year-old power forward and a good-at-many-things, great-at-nothing guard/forward whose scoring declined in each of the next four seasons. Hold that thought.
On August 10 of this year, the Sixers acquired Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers in a three-team deal that netted the Lakers Dwight Howard. You’re never going to believe this, but prior to the trade Bynum had only played in 392 out of a possible 574 regular season games in his young NBA career, largely due to knee problems. That means prior to this season he’s appeared in only 68 percent of regular season games and he’s only 25 years old. If history has shown us anything, it’s that young athletes who have knee issues don’t miraculously rid themselves of them. Ask Greg Oden or Brandon Roy.
The difference? Contrary to the prior two transactions, Andrew Bynum is a player who has yet to reach his prime, or so we think. It’s not every year general managers have to make potentially franchise-altering decisions, as the Sixers must with Bynum. It’s Thanksgiving and Bynum hasn’t put on a Sixer uniform for anything other than a photo shoot. A recent setback is making it look like his Sixer debut won’t be until late January at the earliest (Eds. note: there are new reports suggesting he may miss the whole year). Still, as a Sixers fan, I make that trade a thousand times over.
The Sixers hit gold, as did many other poorly managed teams, with the amnesty provision in the latest collective bargaining agreement. They used their amnesty clause on Brand, ridding themselves of the roughly $18 million they would have owed Brand this season. They still have to pay Brand; it just doesn’t go against their salary cap (Which in and of itself is comical, the fact that all 30 teams get to pick one player they’d prefer to pay to not play for them. Only in the NBA.).
With one of two of Stefanski’s poor contracts off the books, Iguodala’s was next to go. The Sixers were openly shopping Iguodala before the Eastern Conference Semifinals were over. Everyone who’s followed the Sixers for more than five minutes knew Iguodala was out of Philly after last season. The Sixers needed a fresh start. They basically did everything short of putting him on eBay with a “Buy It Now” option. The Sixers new ownership group made two conscience decisions pertaining to Iguodala: that he wasn’t worth what they were paying him, and that with him as their centerpiece, they went as far as they’ll ever go last season when they came within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals (which only happened, ironically, because of a Derrick Rose knee injury). They were spot-on with both presumptions.
This brings us to Andrew Bynum, who I call the ultimate Catch-22. For the record I was absolutely ecstatic when the Sixers acquired him, not because I dislike Iguodala, but for the exact reasons mentioned in the paragraph before this one.
The Sixers made this trade for two main reasons: to rid themselves of Iguodala’s contract, and for the possibility of acquiring their first true franchise player since The Answer, and their first franchise center since Moses Malone. Even knowing Bynum’s injury history they had to make this trade. Again, I do it a thousand times over.
I’m of the opinion that even if the Sixers knew they wouldn’t have Bynum until mid-January prior to making the deal, they’d still make it.