Can Lakers, 76ers afford to let their big men go? - NBC Sports

Can Lakers, 76ers afford to let their big men go?
Cutting Howard and Bynum loose would save money, but how would they be replaced?
AP
The problem for the 76ers is they well may go through an entire season without Andrew Bynum, never get the opportunity to see if it can work with coach Doug Collins.
March 12, 2013, 10:03 am

For Applicant A, the cover letter is relatively brief:

"Seven years experience (unless you count an additional year of sometimes sitting on the bench while sporting a variety of not-necessarily-flattering hairstyles). Owner of two championship rings, but never as a stand-alone star. Knees have not worked for a year and may never again. Seeking five-year contract at approximately $100 million, but possibly willing to relocate for four-year deal at about $20 million less."

For the Applicant B, much of the cover letter is in the past tense:

"Former dominant defensive center who no longer moves so well because of recent back surgery. Currently also dealing with shoulder issue. Has previously stood as stand-alone star, but one who has shown difficulties meshing into team aspect, or with anyone carrying the title of "coach". Has limited offensive repertoire, while also standing as a liability at foul line. Still capable of leading league in rebounding, but has rarely displayed leadership capability off the court. Seeking five-year contract at approximately $118 million, but possibly willing to relocate for four-year contract at nearly $30 million less."

Andrew Bynum (Applicant A) and Dwight Howard (Applicant B) will get theirs this summer. They'll get more, far more, if they remain with their incumbent teams, Bynum with the 76ers, Howard with the Lakers.

But the mere fact that they might not be the most prudent of investments is perhaps the most unexpected aspect of last summer's blockbuster trades.

Yet while much has been made recently about the Denver Nuggets perhaps getting the best of the four-team deal that involved Howard and Bynum, because they wound up with Andre Iguodala, perspective, please. The Nuggets remains a middle-of-the-playoff-pack threat, a team still facing a one-and-done postseason, you know, sort of like they were before acquiring Iguodala.

Then there are those who cast the Magic as prime beneficiaries of the deal, with Nic Vucevic doing more in Orlando than he did with Philadelphia, and with 76ers first-round pick Maurice Harkless having his moments in Central Florida. Yet have you seen the Magic's record? Or the actual attendance at the Amway Center? And, no, no one is coming to see Arron Afflalo.

In fact, an argument could even be made that the 76ers, who just about have sealed a lottery fate, aren't necessarily the ultimate losers, since cap space might ultimately have proven (and still could prove) more valuable than the middling results Iguodala produced during his Philadelphia tenure, especially amid a declining relationship with Doug Collins.

As for the Lakers, it's not as if they gave up much of substance in the first place, anyway, considering the flip side of this very debate is about Bynum.

No, for the moment, the trade itself was a push, none of the four teams involved standing as a championship contender.

Now it's about what comes next.

In the pre-tax, pre-2011 CBA days, throwing bad money after bad fits came without pause. But as last month's trading deadline showed, prudence has prospered. It is why once Josh Smith raised the possibility of a max contract with his own impending free agency, interest waned.

Then came this past week, when Bynum wasn't even on the 76ers' bench for their home game against the Celtics, instead in New York for yet another knee evaluation, talking recently less like someone capable of, or perhaps more to the point willing to, push through what could be career-long discomfort.

And on the second game of that TNT doubleheader the opened with Celtics-76ers, Howard again was falling out of the Lakers' offense in the second half, amid word that the counsel he was seeking about his future was coming not from current Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni but rather from former Lakers coach (once removed) Phil Jackson.

If the ultimate free-agency decisions came down to fit, at least with what's in place, Howard and Bynum both would be moving on this summer.

If D'Antoni can't figure out by now how to incorporate Howard, it is doubtful it is going to happen.

For both the Lakers and the 76ers, there are no easy answers should replacements be needed. The Lakers are capped several times over, even without Howard. The 76ers, in their desperation to get Bynum, showed how much of a risk they were willing to take, including taking on a regrettable $6.2 million next season with Jason Richardson.

The oddest part of the conundrum is that both the Lakers and 76ers would be better off if they could offer the "outsider's" free-agent contract, the one that comes with a shorter term and with shorter raises (thus the aforementioned $20 million less for Bynum and $30 million for Howard in relocation salaries). Indeed, an argument could be made that if, say, the Hawks sign Howard outright as a free agent, they would be getting a far better value than the Lakers would be retaining him. Ditto with an outside suitor that might sign Bynum, which essentially will be any team that fails in the pursuit of Howard.

The problem for the Lakers is as they continue to teeter on the verge of a playoff spot, there is no opportunity for D'Antoni to experiment, show Howard other possibilities of his offense, no easy way for Kobe Bryant to defer in the name of the future. No, not what every game remains the most important game of the season.

The problem for the 76ers is they well may go through an entire season without Bynum, never get the opportunity to see if it can work with Collins, if it can work with Thad Young and Jrue Holiday, which is about all Philadelphia has left as cornerstones. The situation is so convoluted in Philadelphia that Charles Barkley has recommended instead of re-signing Bynum that the 76ers sign Greg Oden, arguably the lone big man out there with knees worse than Bynum.

For the next six weeks (and possibly slightly longer in the case of the Lakers), the debate will be about whether Howard is staying or going, about whether Bynum will stay or be shown the door.

Answers in July have turned to questions in March, pricy questions, frankly, over-priced questions.

We are about to see at what price height, whether the NBA's new economy still is willing to sate a pair of towering presences with, suddenly, somewhat flimsy resumes.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.