Andrew Bynum has been handed the keys to the 76ers. Heck, he’s been handed the keys to the entire city. The heralded all-star center arrived this summer to high expectations. In the blockbuster four-team trade this summer, the 76ers landed one of the premiere big men in the NBA today. Oh how, the city welcomed him in grand fashion. Hundreds of screaming fans showed up to greet him at the National Constitution Center, the site of his first press conference. Along with his arrival, the 76ers immediately went from being a perennial 6-7-8 seed to a top 4 seed in the East. Everyone was having visions of grandeur. Just close your eyes and imagine a Bynum-led offense with newly-acquired perimeter shooters Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, and Nick Young knocking down uncontested jumpers because of the attention that would be the result of having a premiere big man in the paint. Oh how, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday could continue their natural progression and assume the “faces-of-the-franchise” role suddenly left vacant with the departure of the veteran and often criticized, Andre Iguodala. For the record, I liked the taller “A.I.” and accepted him for what he could do and didn’t kid myself into thinking he was more than that (unlike the 76ers and Coach Doug Collins).
Yes, this is the year we make serious strides in making some real noise in the playoffs, right? Well, there is the little matter of trying to keep Bynum in Philadelphia for more than just this season (he earns $16.1 million this year, the last year of his contract). There’s also that matter of the 76ers heralded big off-season acquisition being on the shelf for, at the very least, the entire preseason. His off-season knee surgery/procedure needs precautionary “healing” time and the team reports that he has a bone bruise in his right knee. Bynum received Orthokine therapy at the suggestion of ex-teammate Kobe Bryant to help stimulate healing in arthritis-affected areas in both of his knees. Still trust him with the keys? I was as excited as every other 76er fan when I heard the news that the front office of our beloved, new-energy-infused basketball team had done more than just talk about getting better, they backed it up. The new ownership group had actually put their actions where their mouths were and somehow, someway made a gigantic move to bring that talk to fruition.
I was (and still am) eagerly looking forward to having a bona fide all-star big man on the roster. We haven’t had one since…well since…Moses Malone unceremoniously was shipped out of town by that stupid, stupid man, Harold Katz (did I mention he was stupid?). And now, we have one in Andrew Bynum. Oh yeah, and there’s also that little question of his maturity. Last year, it was reported that Bynum was involved in a couple of situations where he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Lakers coach Mike Brown and the front office. There are times when he doesn’t display the maturity you would like to see from your franchise player. Another instance involved the flagrant foul in the 2011 NBA playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks’ J.J. Barea. The foul was unnecessary and really brought his maturity into question. Now, am I the only person concerned about this? Let’s face it, if Bynum is all that we expect him to be (20 points, 10 rebounds & intimidating in the paint), then, there’s no question we want him in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. Heck, if he is what we hope he is, throw the maximum at him to keep him. But, there’s that pesky little word…”if”. Bynum has missed 130 out of a possible 394 games the past five seasons. Remember, we’ve given him the keys. Can he be trusted? Will he be responsible with the keys?
I asked myself those questions in the midst of the screaming fans at the National Constitution Center this past August. I was fully aware that what I was experiencing at that introductory press conference was the first stage of a year-long courting of Andrew Bynum. That day was the day we handed over the keys to the city to a 24 year old, seemingly “not-quite-as-mature-as-he-should-be”, multi-million dollar basketball player. Is anybody else worried about this? Is it just me? The last time we turned the city over to a mutli-million dollar basketball player who was “not-quite-as-mature-as-he-should-be”, it was “Mr. Practice” himself, Allen Iverson. Now, don’t get me wrong here, the A.I. era of Sixers basketball was indeed exciting and brought us a memorable championship run in 2001 (and I thank him for that). For that stretch of time our city had one of the most iconic players of his time packing the house (whatever the “house” was called at that time but, hey it was jumping). I know this is an argument for another time, but after MJ retired, A.I. was the iconic figure of the NBA. But along with the good came the bad. Among the worst was how A.I. and entourage would invade the T.G.I.Fridays on City Ave. and turn it into “Club Fridays”. Nothing wrong with that, right? Yes, that wouldn’t have been so bad except, if you weren’t on the list it was very hard getting in (and I loved my Jack Daniel’s shrimp back then). Bynum, could potentially find himself on the wrong end of the decision-making process that requires maturity to navigate this city’s social scene. Will he be the face of the hip-hop culture that the young people gravitate to today like A.I. was? I doubt that, but it is a lot of responsibility.
When your dad finally entrusts you with the keys to the car for the first time it’s a huge moment. It signifies the trust he now has in, not only your ability to drive, but it also shows the trust he has in your ability to make sound decisions. That trust involves risk. Yes, you may be capable of driving but are you mature enough to handle the responsibility of making the right choice while the keys are in your possession. The same applies to Bynum and the keys we have given him to drive the entire city. It is a lot of power for a young man. Will he clash with Coach Collins and play his prima donna card? I am sure he is quite aware of the chips he holds. Will he be an example for his teammates as a player who, at 24 years old, is actually an established veteran, with championship experience? He has the power to come in and lead a relatively inexperienced playoff team and show them what it takes to win a championship. Will he take advantage of that or will we be stuck with the sequel to the infamous “Practice” speech given by one immature Allen Iverson? We will soon find out if we can trust Bynum with the keys. As a matter of fact, we have one year to let him test drive the city. I’ll tell you one thing, if he can bring that type of excitement and an NBA championship back to the city of Philadelphia, some will say not only can he have the keys but if he wants, he can change the locks.