And the winner is….? To be determined much later

November 23, 2012

Wait for it… (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

Andrew Bynum has yet to play a game for Philadelphia and his brittle knees apparently aren’t even strong enough to keep him upright while bowling. Dwight Howard is already playing for his third coach in Los Angeles. Denver is a track team that has been slow to leave the starting blocks with Andre Iguodala. And Orlando is as terrible as expected but mostly thankful that it didn’t give up its franchise big man for a fragile one.

The biggest trade of last summer – a behemoth, four-team deal that involved three all-stars switching uniforms – has yet to yield favorable results for any of the parties involved. Players need time to get comfortable and teams certainly need more time to develop chemistry but the early struggles of the participants reflect the downside of making a big offseason splash: Sometimes the water hurts once you hit it.

This season, several teams around the league have been slow to reap immediate benefits from expensive, headline-grabbing moves.

Brooklyn is off to a respectable start since adding Joe Johnson – and the rest of his $126 million contract – in a trade with Atlanta, but the five-time all-star guard is shooting poorly and having his least productive season in nearly 10 years. Leaving behind that miracle-working training staff in Phoenix, 38-year-old, two-time MVP Steve Nash has only played two games with the Lakers after banging knees with Portland rookie Damian Lillard.

Linsanity was a one-month phenomenon that started and ended in New York, but Jeremy Lin has been spared greater scrutiny after signing a massive deal with Houston because the Rockets made a move that actually worked, prying away James Harden from Oklahoma City and watching him become one of the league leaders in scoring (although some would argue that Harden has actually diminished Lin’s influence). 

New Orleans gave Eric Gordon a maximum contract and don’t know when he’ll suit up alongside No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis because of a troublesome right knee that limited him to just nine games last season. Indiana center Roy Hibbert doesn’t have any health concerns but the Pacers have been sputtering and the former Georgetown standout hasn’t come close to resembling the all-star player who warranted a $78 million extension.

Some smaller-scale moves are paying off handsomely, with Ray Allen and Jason Kidd having seamless adjustments in Miami and New York, respectively. But the teams that made drastic alterations have had to take a few lessons in patience – and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the teams that rank among the NBA’s best have maintained relative continuity from the lockout-shortened season.

Nash should return from the fractured fibula in his left leg around the same time Howard is fully recovered from his offseason back procedure and the Lakers have finally taken to new Coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offensive system. Iguodala is scoring and rebounding at better clips than his final season in Philadelphia, but his shooting percentages and assists have dipped while his turnovers have increased. But with Arron Afflalo now with the Magic, Denver has struggled to find the shooting to make the dribble-drive offense more effective.

The Lakers and Nuggets should get their acts together in the upcoming months, but the 76ers are in a much more precarious situation with the mercurial Bynum, whose health problems in both knees have been well documented and only appear to be getting worse. He has already missed all of this season with a bone bruise in his right knee, and then damaged cartilage and suffered a bone bruise in his left knee on a night out at the bowling alley. Even if he regains full health in both knees, Bynum made a sobering comment that reflected the mental hurdle that also awaits him: “If that happened bowling, what happens dunking?”

The 76ers would probably prefer the latter if they had to choose, since it would mean that Bynum was back on the court. His arrival was hailed as a victory with the dearth of talented big men in the Eastern Conference and for a franchise that has been in search of a dominant big man since Moses Malone tried to go “fo’, fo’, fo.’ ”

Bynum will be a free agent next summer, but Philadelphia will have to decide if its worth investing a maximum salary deal for a 7-foot, 25-year-old all-star whose greatest contribution thus far is setting the Twitterverse on fire with his outlandish, Jackson Five-inspired Afro. The 76ers will find out the severity of his injuries next month but they likely have no choice but to bring to him back with a massive contract.

Otherwise, they’ll have little to show for a trade that was supposed to set up at least three franchises for success. Immediacy, however, wasn’t guaranteed.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Gene Wang · November 23, 2012

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