While it’s still unclear to non-experts in quixotic German plasma injection therapies (this is probably most of our readership) what exactly is going on inside of the right, and now left, knee of Andrew Bynum, this much is: he won’t be playing basketball again until, in all likelihood, the new year.
This is terrible news that presents a tremendous opportunity.
To repeat a belabored point, the sole imperative of any professional sports franchise is to win championships (for the sake of my argument, lets pretend that this is actually true).
This means different things in different sports. In professional football, playoff outcomes have grown so random that the surest way to win titles is to build a team that can consistently be somewhere between good and very good over the course of multiple seasons. See: Giants, New York and Steelers, Pittsburgh. In baseball, though the comparative difficulty of getting into the playoffs changes the calculus a bit, the title odds are similarly shaped; get into the postseason and anything can happen.
The NBA is a different beast.
With a couple of exceptions so rare that they leap right out at you (the 2011 Mavericks, natch), titles are invariably won by one of the three or four best teams from that given season. Everyone else is window dressing. The thing then, the only thing, is to figure out a way to crack that top three or four. This reality incentivizes a high-risk approach that doesn’t make sense in other sports. If your team isn’t in that top tier, and is not plausibly on course to break in, there is no risk too great to take to get there.
Which brings us to the 7-6.
Now only the most Pollyannaish Sixers partisan could look at a 5-4 team with a negative scoring differential that just lost to the previously 0-8 Pistons by 19 points and think they’re a healthy Andrew Bynum away from contention. Even with their center, the Sixers are, by preseason consensus, a group that could expect to win somewhere between 42 and 50 games. That’s not good enough to join the top four. Unfortunately, it would be just good enough to discourage a GM concerned with his job security from taking the potentially disruptive, but necessary, risks that could position the team to win.
Enter Bynum’s injury.
With news breaking yesterday that their center now has tendon problems in his left knee to match the bone bruise in his right, it’s becoming increasing likely that the Sixers will not get a full strength Bynum this season. That’s fine. Shut him down until 2013-14.
Then, with expectations further cooled, use the PR cover to flip a few of the more attractive peripheral parts (the team’s depth is a legitimate and unique strength, but players like Thad Young, Jason Richardson, and Spencer Hawes are replaceable) for guys who can help down the road, but are at no risk of winning games this season.
If the Sixers shift gears now, like immediately, they could lose enough games to position themselves to draft a foundational talent like Shabazz Muhammad, Nerlens Noel, or someone of their ilk.
Management, through its aggression this offseason, has already demonstrated it’s not risk averse. They just took apart a team that was ten points away from the conference finals. Continue on this course
Tanking is, obviously, bad for basketball. It remains good for the teams that do it. Economists call this a negative externality. Spurs fans call it “the reason we got Tim Duncan.” Time for the Sixers to land a Duncan of their own.