Gosh, how did we get here? What seemed to be a certainty at the beginning of the year is now the question looming over this franchise. That is: what contract, if any, will the Sixers offer to Andrew Bynum after this season? It’s a huge question considering that (a) Bynum all but confirmed he’s out for the year, and (b) the Sixers previously have put all their eggs in the Bynum basket. If we are to go by their word, the Sixers still plan to make Bynum a part of their future. He’s their Plan A. But the franchise’s lack of action at the trade deadline makes it seem like there’s no Plan B, or if there is one that it will take a while to materialize.
If the Sixers do plan to bring back Bynum, they have to do so at a price. Fan consensus seems to be that Bynum will still get a huge contract offer from somewhere, though no one knows exactly where that somewhere could be. Howard Eskin reported on Twitter that Houston is preparing to make Bynum an offer, though that could just be speculation based on the their superstar-seeking history. However, scenarios like Houston’s* make a ton of sense for potential suitors. Teams looking for a second superstar and with cap room and assets to take such a risk are teams that may want to think about it, especially in a weak free agent market like 2013’s. Almost of the top players are sub-max guys. A healthy Bynum, or even a 90% Bynum, deserves the max. And no one actually wants to offer Josh Smith a max contract if they don’t have to, or at least I would hope so.
*Other teams who qualify under the "possibly willing to absorb risk" clause: Cleveland, Atlanta, and Dallas, among others. Houston, Atlanta, and Dallas will likely turn to Bynum if Dwight Howard spurns their advances.
So the Sixers have their own concerns with Bynum’s health and other teams to battle, which makes this an awful situation. They could easily lose Bynum, who they mortgaged the franchise to offer, for nothing, to a team more willing to absorb the risk that comes with an injured Bynum. They could also theoretically sign-and-trade him, but I doubt a team will give up assets to take the Bynum risk after he missed an entire season. It’ll likely take more than a one-year max deal to retain Bynum given the circumstances, and probably more than 2. Given that, the consequences of giving Andrew Bynum a contract become clear: it’s build around him, or die for a little while without him and rebuild through the draft.
Give Bynum a Contract
(note before I start: I obtained all my salary numbers via HoopsWorld - some sites have conflicting cap numbers, but I generally trust theirs)
Assuming Bynum signs a max contract, the consequences depend on the years given to him. Obviously, a one-year deal is optimal but likely impossible. It produces no more risk than they’ve already taken, and they avoid sinking their cap in a long-term deal for an injury-prone center.
A two-year contract seems unlikely, but it may be a perfectly fine option. They could still be involved in the 2014 summer bonanza if they can shed a contract or two, as I wrote before (although Thaddeus Young seems to be the only option for this, now, with Jason Richardson’s age/injury). They will also, again, be taking on less risk than they would under a long-term deal, although guaranteeing 30% of the team’s cap for two years could be a lot to swallow for owners who paid over $32 million to players who have not played a minute for the Sixers this year – the other is Elton Brand, who the Sixers are paying $14 million to play in Dallas. On a related note, the Sixers active center rotation got paid over $12 million to provide about as much value, if not less.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Giving Bynum a three- or four-year contract, given his knee condition, seems implausible, though the Sixers may be comfortable with either of these scenarios considering the on-court product they’ve produced this season and their assessment of the team’s chances without him. Again, the 2014 free agency option is still there, but the risk is so much greater it may not be worth taking. We also have to consider the other players on the roster. Giving him the deal could reap huge rewards if he’s able to recover and become a 60-65 game player at a level equal to or even a bit lower than his former self, but the downside involves taking up most of the team’s cap room alongside Jrue’s team-friendly extension. If he fails to come back, the Sixers will be stuck with a bloated cap and a limited ability to improve through free agency. However, if he’s really a non-entity, they should still be bad enough to get some decent draft picks and obtain talent that way.
Don't Give Him a Contract
The Sixers, assuming Bynum does not sign, they waive all of the cap holds they can, and they choose not to extend qualifying offers to Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Pargo, would have $44.64 million in guaranteed salary, plus a cap hold for the first round pick (should be around $2 million, give or take a few hundred thousand) and cap holds to get the roster to the minimum 12 players for salary cap purposes, for a total of around $48.5 million. While we don’t have the cap number for next year, it shouldn’t be dramatically different than this year’s $58 million. Assuming BRI goes up and the cap reaches $60 million, the Sixers would not have enough room to offer any non-Sixer a max contract this summer without reducing their salary by moving a contract. And even if they do, they would have waived most of their exceptions that they could use to fill out the roster.
However, the Sixers can go over the cap to re-sign Bynum with his Bird Rights (which allow teams to sign their own players to longer and richer contracts AND go over the cap to retain their players), which to me means that the team either has to re-sign him or blow it up into pieces if they want to move into any direction other than "mediocre". The free agent class, while not top-heavy, does have a decent amount of depth, and teams like the Sixers without max room may rummage the depth pile to actually improve. J.J. Redick is a good player, but he’s not what you want on a team without a star. If anything, attempting to do anything meaningful in free agency without Bynum equates to a one-way path back to Mediocracy.
If they end up dropping Bynum, optimally they should go with what they have guaranteed next year, with the exception of a possible Turner trade (that is, while he still has value and youth on his side). They take the Houston approach to filling out a roster, giving young players who can potentially be role players team friendly, near-minimum deals to round out the roster. The team stinks, but hopefully the Sixers develop and find a style that’s at least somewhat tolerable. We then figure out what we have from there with the players on the roster and see if we can capitalize in 2014 free agency, which should be a better chance to actually improve the roster while Jrue Holiday remains cheap relative to on-court value, and the Sixers pick up 2 lottery picks in the meantime. It’s not what we wanted, but it’s not a terrible plan, and given that flexibility is a huge plus under the new CBA, it may be worth not taking the Bynum plunge.
The downside, however, is fairly bleak. Poor or unlucky drafting could put the Sixers in a huge hole that will be hard to make up through the duration of Jrue's prime, and the team could become even more irrelevant than it already is in Philadelphia.
Would You Sign Bynum to a Long-Term Deal?
I took a poll on Twitter, asking whether or not the Sixers should re-sign Bynum. I prefaced the question based on including the potential that Bynum failed to play a single game for the team. Reaction was, predictably, mixed, with a few more opting to let him go than retain him. Included here are some of the responses:
@soconnor76 Yes. Superstar 7-footers are rare and Bynum is great. Just would be careful about the number of years I offer.— Randy Randerson (@Itachill) February 28, 2013
@soconnor76 Nope. His knees aren't going to get better.— Roy Burton (@TheBSLine) February 28, 2013
@soconnor76 2 years, yes.3 years, I'd have to think long and hard.4+, not unless it's a stupid ridiculous discount I think I can move— Derek Bodner (@derekbodner) February 28, 2013
@soconnor76 Obviously would depend on medical report.Is it a degenerative condition?Back to 100% by next October?Important.— Seth Herring (@sether81) February 28, 2013
@soconnor76 no. Cut your losses and start over— Ian Dougherty (@EeyoreWolfDough) February 28, 2013
@soconnor76 the mere possibility of a repeat of this year's events + $16 million in cap space for a deep free agent class is reason not to— EJ Aguado (@aguado91) February 28, 2013
@soconnor76 I feel like whichever decision the Sixers make here will be the wrong one— Eric Tung (@tungeric) February 28, 2013
I’ve somewhat danced around the answer to this question, because it’s a tough one. As I mentioned in the title, there is no right answer. It’s all a matter of valuing risk and imperfect information, which means I’m both playing with someone else’s money AND possess less information than that said someone. But I’ve thought for a while about this, since December really, when we first got hints that he may never play at all. And I think I’ve settled on an answer, given that we get no new information.
I would be perfectly fine if they decided to move on without him and offer a non-competitive deal, as they should know more than any other team, and they might decide to not compound their mistake (in hindsight, of course). However, I think that if they had a chance to give him a one- or two-year deal they must absolutely pounce on it. The reward is well worth the risk, in my eyes, because Bynum is still the best chance for championship-level greatness that the Sixers look to have. And honestly, I think I’d be in favor of a three-year deal as well, considering at least a decent chance of full recovery still exists. But if a team comes in with the full four-year free agent max, I believe the Sixers have no choice but to pass on a deal. It’s too much of a risk for too long of a time that I don’t think is worth it. At this point, some team may be desperate enough to offer that. I hope it’s not the Sixers.