John Smallwood: Bynum move should drastically improve Sixers' fortunes

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Sixers center Andrew Bynum will not play in Wednesday's season opener. (Matt Rourke/AP)

IN 1981, HAROLD KATZ bought the 76ers and wanted to make an immediate impact to signal his stewardship.

Before the start of the 1982-83 season, he signed All-Star center Moses Malone, giving up Caldwell Jones and the Sixers' 1983 first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets as compensation.

It was the final piece, as the "always close" Sixers won the 1983 NBA championship.

On July 13, 2011, Joshua Harris became the principal owner of the Sixers and said he was committed to changing the fortunes of a franchise stuck in neutral.

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A little more than a year later, Harris approved his first major player transaction on Aug. 10, when the Sixers got All-Star center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that cost them Andre Iguodala, 2012 first-round pick Maurice Harkless, 2011 first-round pick Nik Vucevic and a future first-round pick.

But don't look for Bynum to provide the instant championship return that Malone did.

The situations are different.

In 1982, the Sixers were a championship-caliber team led by Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones.

They were as good as the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, but needed someone to get them over the hump in the NBA Finals.

They got a Hall of Fame booster pack in exchange for a role player and a draft pick.

Last season, the Sixers won a playoff series for the first time in eight seasons.

By trading Iguodala, they removed the only All-Star from a young team that had tasted success for the first time.

The distance that the 2012-13 Sixers must travel to win the NBA Finals is five times the journey of the 1982-83 team.

Still, it would be a mistake not to look at the Bynum move as the Sixers' most important acquisition since they drafted Allen Iverson No. 1 overall in 1996.

And it would be clinging to the old lines of cynicism not to see that this year could represent the biggest one-season jump since the Sixers went from winning 49 games and finishing third in the Atlantic Division in 2000 to winning 56 games, taking the Atlantic and reaching the 2001 Finals.

I don't see the Sixers winning the Eastern Conference, not while the reigning champion Miami Heat still has LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But how about moving the winning percentage from .530 to .621 (51-31); winning the Atlantic for the first time since 2000-01 and pushing Miami to the limit in the Eastern Conference Finals?

That's what I see as the immediate impact of the Sixers' offseason activity - headlined by getting Bynum, but also featuring the addition of shooting guard Jason Richardson from the Bynum trade and free-agent shooters Nick Young and Dorell Wright.

That improvement in talent, along with the expected continued improvement from point guard Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, makes the Sixers, on paper, second to only the Heat in the East.

Yes, the NBA has transitioned to point-guard-dominated league, which makes the 22-year-old Holiday's having a breakout season vital, but there is still much to be said for having a high-quality big man.

With former Magic center Dwight Howard moving to the Lakers in the same trade that brought Bynum here, the Sixers have the best big man in the Eastern Conference.

In ESPN's 2012-13 preseason player rankings, Bynum is listed as the 13th best overall.

The only players ahead of him in the East are James (No. 1), Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (5), Wade (8), Nets point guard Deron Williams (10) and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (12).

At 6-8, James is the tallest among those guys.

Bynum is 7 feet and 285 pounds.

The next near-7-footer ranked in the East is Bosh (18), who is 6-11 but only 235 pounds. He will not be defending Bynum on the low block.

The first big man ranked in the Eastern Conference who looks as if he can physically challenge Bynum is Knicks center Tyson Chandler, who is 7-1 and 240.

But Chandler, ranked 23rd, is 30, 5 years older than Bynum, and with 11 years of NBA pounding on him.

Atlanta center Al Horford (No. 30) is 2 inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than Bynum.

It's not until you get to No. 35 and 25-year-old Indiana center Roy Hibbert that you have a player who is truly comparable in size (7-2, 280) and age to Bynum.

Bynum should be the most dominant big man in the East, and his presence should make every player on the roster better.

Of course, it won't be easy.

A lot of things must break right, and coach Doug Collins has to manage a remade roster.

The Celtics are the old lion that is too stubborn to simply step down. The Knicks are dysfunctional but have talent.

The biggest threat in the Atlantic Division could be the Nets, who, by adding All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and getting center Brook Lopez healthy again, could show the biggest improvement in the East.

Thirty years ago, before the start of the 1982-83 season, Katz, a new owner, made a move for a big man that changed the fate of the Sixers.

Thirty years later before the start of 2012-13, Harris, a new owner, looks as if he has done the same.

 


Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/JohnSmallwood.