Philadelphia 76ers Better Without Bynum?
For the past two years, the Philadelphia 76ers have looked like a team on the rise, with an excellent head coach in Doug Collins, plenty of talented young players on the roster and the kind of steady playoff progression you like to see from a burgeoning perennial playoff team.
But then they traded their only All-Star in Andre Iguodala for another All-Star in Andrew Bynum, who was supposed to serve as the new cornerstone of the organization. Now, there are whispers that he may need yet another knee surgery and potentially could miss the entire season, leaving Philly with all role players and no star. You’d think that would be enough to force them backwards, but so far the Sixers have been the fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference through 17 games.
The question is, why haven’t they gotten worse without an All-Star? According to Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, they’re thriving precisely because they don’t have an All-Star.
“We’re just going out there and playing team basketball,” Young said.
Starting point guard Jrue Holiday, who has been the team’s most impressive player thus far, agreed.
“We haven’t been counting on Andrew coming back, so we’ve just been playing,” Holiday added. “Obviously we hoped that he was, but from the start of training camp we instilled in our brain that we can’t really rely on Andrew. We’ve just had to go out there and play our game, meshing well and just being a team.”
Spencer Hawes, another one of the players who’s been a part of this young core for the last two years, agreed that a mindset in which they simply don’t expect to ever play with Bynum has been cathartic in getting the team off to a respectable start in his absence.
“After the trade, there were a lot of expectations for us,” Hawes said. “But we’d never played with him. We were excited to build on a lot of the progress we’d made the last couple of years. Guys have taken some step forwards, and we’ve just kind of put the onus on ourselves.”
Plus, Hawes adds, two years of playoff experience, plus the franchise’s first playoff series win since 2003 last year, gave the team confidence moving forward long before Bynum was even acquired.
“Having that experience and the confidence that comes with that over the last two years is important,” Hawes said. “Two years ago, it was first time in the playoffs for a lot of us, and I think it showed. We had a first-round exit, but last year we had a little of a different mindset and got further in the playoffs. This year, we’ve got another mindset again. You’ve just got to continue to evolve and take another step forward.”
That, evidently, is what the Sixers have done, which has been especially impressive in the face of the major adversity they’ve faced and the circus that has come with Bynum and his bum knees. If the season ended today, they’d finish as a five-seed, which would be the best this group of young Sixers will have ever done. They’re moving forward, without Bynum and without Iguodala, and the fact that Young, at age 24, is the longest-tenured player on the roster means there’s still plenty of room to grow.
What everyone will spend the next several months wondering is if Andrew Bynum will be growing with them.