This was supposed to be the season in which Andrew Bynum propelled a reconfigured Philadelphia 76ers roster to the elusive next level, perhaps as the top threat to Miami's supremacy in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Bynum's rickety knees have wrecked the Sixers' 2012-13 season, and have turned the team's long-term prospects into one big question mark.
Bynum's acquisition last August -- Rod Thorn's last big move as the Sixers' architect -- promised to shake up a franchise that had been mired in mediocrity for an entire decade. At the time, the main concern was Bynum's status as an unrestricted free agent-to-be. It was a risk most saw as worthwhile since this summer the Sixers would be in position to offer Bynum about $27 million more than any other team. Now the question of whether the Sixers can re-sign Bynum has been obliterated by the debate about whether they should bother to re-sign him at all.
It's remarkable just how bad the acquisition of Bynum has turned out for Philadelphia. Not only has his absence undermined a dispirited Sixers squad that has gone 12-30 over the past three months, but the assets the Sixers surrendered to make the deal are enriching other teams across the league.
Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is one of the league's most-improved players. He's averaging a double-double, ranks second in the league in total rebounds and is shooting 52.5 percent from the floor. It's not Bynum-when-healthy production, but it would look awfully good to the Sixers. In Denver, former Sixer Andre Iguodala has fit in well with the Nuggets as one of seven rotation players with a PER better than the league average of 15.0, and Denver is on pace to set a franchise record for wins in an NBA season. And Moe Harkless, who was selected by the Sixers with the 15th pick last June, has a 12.5 PER in more than 1,200 minutes for Orlando. Only 20 teenagers have ever hit those two benchmarks in the NBA.
For all that, plus a future first-round pick, the Sixers may wind up with zero on-court contribution from Bynum, who would have fit so well in the inside-out style of offense the Sixers hoped to employ this season. Now Thorn's replacement, Tony DiLeo, faces the biggest dilemma that any NBA team's primary decision-maker will encounter in the coming offseason. There may be no easy solution.