Mar 22 2013

How do you solve a problem like Andrew?

(Credit: Philly.com)

(Credit: Philly.com)

This summer, the Sixers are going to make one of the most pivotal decisions in franchise history. You know the context, we can skip that.

Below, we’ve gamed out some of the possible options for the team. Granted, none of them are attractive relative to what the expectations were this summer. If you just became a father, your kid will be walking and talking by the time the Sixers can think about winning another playoff series. All isn’t lost though.

Happy people, I once read on a poster in a subway, view adversity not as bad luck, or the random fluctuations of an indifferent universe, but as opportunity. So don’t worry Sixers, be happy. And choose wisely.

Bynum simply walks (or limps) out of town

The problem with this option isn’t so much that the Sixers will be letting value go without getting any return on it—though as a business practice, this is something to avoid—but rather what they would likely do with the cash suddenly burning a max-salary-sized hole in their pocket.

The scenario this team was, wisely, trying to escape when it moved Iguodala and change for Bynum was permanent mediocrity—the 35-45 win no-man’s land the franchise had been firmly entrenched in for the past decade. But Bynum leaving complicates that. If the Sixers take the dollars allocated for Bynum and, in a desperate bid for relevance, offer them to an FA like Josh Smith, David West, Al Jefferson, or even Nik Pekovic, they’ll end up precisely where they started. Which is to say, nowhere. With one panicked deal, the team could guarantee itself another half-decade or more of non-contention.

Five year, max deal

No. Nope. No way, no how.

Long-term deal with a low AAV

Let’s say the 76ers offer Bynum a 4-year/ $45-million dollar deal. (I’m not suggesting this is a likely, or even a plausible offer. There’s no way of knowing right now. It’s just a reference point.) If agreed to, these parameters seem suboptimal for both parties.

In the event that Bynum isn’t able to play basketball, the Sixers are very exposed. Though the team was able to insure Bynum this season and reportedly recoup $6.7 million of his $16.9 million salary, it’s unlikely that this option would be available going forward. Under the present CBA, each team can request insurance for five players, but the league’s insurance carrier has the right to refuse to cover 14 of these players, league wide, in any given season. A well-compensated Bynum seems a sure bet to get the boot from the policy. (A quick aside: while there is some scuttlebutt that the Sixers medical staff didn’t do a sufficiently thorough vet of Bynum, that they missed a telltale sign his knees would collapse on him this season, it’s telling that the league’s insurance company made the same error. Insurance companies don’t miss much.)

But while they wouldn’t be able to recoup costs under this scenario, the Sixers could get cap relief from the league in the form of a disabled player exception that would allow them to add a player without cap-ramifications. Under the DPE, the team could sign a Bynum replacement to a contract in the amount of 50 percent the non-Taxpayer midlevel exception, or 50 percent of Bynum’s salary, whichever is less. The exception can be applied for in multiple seasons; meaning, if Bynum were to miss multiple seasons, the team would be able to sign a reasonably priced replacement each year.

Sixers concerns aside, this is also a problematic deal for Bynum. If he takes it and never plays meaningful basketball again, he’ll be viewed as something of a pariah, a thief. It’s hard to weight $45 million against psychological strain, but let’s just say this: given the media climate in the City of Brotherly Love, I wouldn’t want to take $50 million from a Philadelphia sports franchise and give it nothing in return.

And even if Bynum takes the deal and, through some medical miracle, plays at his previous level, he’d be wildly, and frustratingly, underpaid relative to his production. It seems a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Short term, max deal

This seems the soundest bet for both parties. Bynum would hold his Bird rights—maximizing his career earning power—while the Sixers can, to an extent, have their cake and eat it too.

Imagine the Sixers sign Bynum to a two-year deal at a maximum salary. This, effectively, caps them out next season. If Bynum can come back and play, they enter 2013-14 with a starting lineup of something like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, 2013 Lottery Pick X, and Andrew Bynum. That’s a stronger version of the group many thought could compete for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed this season. And if Bynum, for whatever reason, can’t play in 2013-14? The Sixers have a season similar to this one (i.e., a bad one), then enter 2014-15 with the 2013-14 core plus an additional lottery pick. If Bynum can play that season, great. That’s a very strong, very young team. If he can’t? The Sixers end up in the lottery again, and, with Bynum’s expiring deal, have an attractive asset to build their team with.