Who better to kick off our 2013 Free Agent Stock Watch series with than the enigmatic Andrew Bynum? By all accounts, Bynum is one of the most intriguing free agent cases in recent memory. Because of his chronic knees, Bynum hasn't played since last May and we recently learned may not play at all this season. But he is only 25 and as a natural center, a rare commodity in today's NBA. Combine that with the fact that he already played a large role in two Lakers championship runs and it isn't totally far fetched to think that some team, desperate for a star, may give him a max deal.
But will that team be the 76ers? Nearly 70% of our readers say the Sixers should not re-sign Bynum at all, much less to a max deal. The Sixers have maintained that Bynum is still their "Plan A" and David Aldridge reported that they are "intoxicated" by his potential. But Bynum hasn't touched the court as a Sixer and to make matters worse, Nikola Vucevic and Maurice Harkless are blossoming in Orlando. This is a tricky situation for the Sixers – one that involves health, PR and cost commitment variables atypical of regular star free-agent-to-be scenarios.
The Bynum case is nearly impossible to predict. As our Luke Adams outlined yesterday, should the Sixers give Bynum a max deal, it will be for five years and just south of $102MM. That is a lot of money for a guy who, come opening night in 2013, will likely not have played in 18 months. They could, of course, come to terms on a more reasonable contract should the rest of the NBA be scared off by the risk of a near-max deal. But should they even bother?
Some in Philly see Bynum as a sunk cost. Beyond his absence on the court, Bynum's casual attitude has turned the fanbase against him. A healthy return next season, by itself, would not be enough to bring the fans around — something that may matter to a franchise struggling to sell tickets. On the other hand, the Sixers took this risk in the first place because they had to. Without any stars, they were stuck in NBA purgatory – too good to land a top five draft pick, not good enough to be legitimate contenders and not an attractive enough NBA location to lure the elite players it takes to win championships via free agency. They will, at the very least, consider re-signing Bynum for the same reason. For first-year general manager Tony DiLeo, it's an impossible decision and one that, depending on the results, will undoubtedly dictate the success or failure of the franchise in the short and long term.
Should the Sixers decide to pass on Bynum, they could try to work out a sign-and-trade or just part ways with the seven-footer. As Luke notes, a max deal for Bynum, should he hit the open market, would be for four years and just less than $76MM. At a glance, any team willing to spend on Bynum at any amount would have to display a handful of qualifications: a desperation for superstar talent, a comfort level with (significant) risk, an ability to contend and, of course, a boatload of cap space. In the West, as Luke also touched on today, Dallas and Houston both fit the bill. In the East, Atlanta makes a lot of sense as does Cleveland to a lesser degree, should the Cavs want to pair Kyrie Irving with another dominant player.
It's no surprise that many of these teams are also said to be popular destinations for Dwight Howard, should he leave Los Angeles. Injury-prone centers with questions about their attitudes, Howard and Bynum are somewhat similar, as Eddie Sefko pointed out today. There figures to be no shortage of suitors for Howard. Bynum could certainly benefit from that, as teams that strike out on Howard, their pockets still filled with cash, could become desperately risk-inclined and eager for a consolation prize.
When healthy, Bynum is the second best center in the NBA. His skills and upside are not the problem. He scores, he rebounds, he guards the rim and at times, appears dominant enough to be the best center in the NBA. But outside of two seasons — 2006-07 and 2011-12 — Bynum has never really shown he can be consistently healthy for an entire season. Couple that with a perceived attitude problem, and you get the most unpredictable free agent stock in recent memory.