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New 76ers CEO apologizes to Philly fans for ill-fated one-year Andrew Bynum era

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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As good as it got. (David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images)

You might have missed this, because it didn't make a whole lot of headlines over the past year, but trading for Andrew Bynum in a four-team mega-swap last summer didn't work out so hot for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Cliffs Notes: Philly sent out Andre Iguodala, second-year center Nikola Vucevic and rookie swingman Moe Harkless in exchange for Bynum and veteran Jason Richardson. Iguodala helped the Denver Nuggets win 57 games and the two young players showed promise for the Orlando Magic. Knee injuries limited Richardson to 33 games and kept Bynum from taking the floor at all.

Along the way, Bynum promised comebacks but never came back, set himself back by bowling a few frames and acted like kind of a jerk throughout the process, never seeming all that sorry about failing to come through for a franchise that bet big on him and lost. (Sure, an insurance company picked up his $16.9 million tab, but still.) As Dr. J said, the Bynum deal amounted to Robert Parish's old number for the Sixers; a season that began with top-of-the-East aspirations ended with a lottery trip, an ousted coach and general manager, and the charting of a different, analytics-focused direction under new general manager Sam Hinkie.

Joining Hinkie and a Coach To Be Named Later in leading the 76ers in that new direction is former Madison Square Garden Sports president Scott O'Neil, who replaced Adam Aron as Philly's CEO earlier this month. And as one of the new public faces of the franchise, O'Neil now finds himself in line to take some lumps and answer for the sins of the past, as he did during a recent visit with Philadelphia sports talk radio station WIP-FM's Angelo Cataldi.

If you'd like, you can listen to the full interview — in which, among other things, Cataldi calls the 76ers' P.R. strategy and ongoing coaching search "insulting" because media and fans have not been kept sufficiently informed — here. The money section, though, was pulled out by Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

After being urged by [...] Cataldi, new Sixers chief executive officer Scott O’Neil apologized Thursday morning to fans who purchased tickets with the hope of seeing Bynum play.

“I apologize on behalf of the Sixers to any fan who invested and thought Bynum was going to be their guy and be the savior,” said O’Neil, while being a guest on Cataldi's radio show. “At the end of the day, that’s our apology to every fan — not just to you [he told Cataldi].

“However, we are going to take some chances when we can take some chances. And sometimes, they're not going to work. And sometimes, they are. When they don’t work, we are not going to ever talk about a player negatively. That’s not going to help us or the franchise or the fans. That’s not going to help us recruit. It doesn't help us go out and grab free agents. It doesn’t help us when we are evaluating talent. It doesn’t help us when we are talking to coaches. It just doesn't help.”

So, if I have it right, here's the argument, summed up:

• "I don't like how we're not be included in the coaching search. I liked it when we were being included in stuff, like the meet-and-greet with Bynum, where 700 fans were whipped up into a frenzy about the prospect of a great year ahead following a trade I supported."

• "Having been whipped up into a frenzy about how good things were supposed to be, I later became very angry at how bad things actually were. I demand an apology from you, who joined the organization about two weeks ago and had nothing to do with the thing I'm mad at."

• "And, again, I'd really like for the coaching search to be more transparent and open to fan and media interaction, because I'd really like the opportunity to get stratospherically high about how it's going to work out and 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'-low if it doesn't deliver."

• "Also, please make the front-office executive who runs the basketball team more like the head coach of the football team. I like the way he talks better."

• "Thank you. I'll take that apology now."

While the sports radio host's airing of grievances comes across as misdirected, you can certainly understand the frustration. The Bynum saga worked out to be a colossal, flaming wreck for Philadelphia, Bynum himself did nothing to ingratiate himself to Sixers fans while in town, and comments like "I haven't had the opportunity to play for a city that is really just gonna stand up and really support the team" certainly won't do much to promote good will now that he has signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Philly fans (and talk show hosts) are well within their rights to have all kinds of negative feelings toward the 7-foot hair model. The general point of Sixers fans being somewhat disenfranchised right now and needing to reconnect after things have gone poorly makes a lot of sense. None of that means the logic of the initial move — shipping out a pair of players whom few appear to have properly valued (shouts to Magic GM Rob Hennigan) for an All-NBA-caliber center coming off averaging 18 points and 12 boards a game who could provide a desperately needed shot in the arm for one of the NBA's worst offenses — makes any less sense, though.

It also definitely has nothing to do with Hinkie or O'Neil, and publicly "censuring" Bynum as a jerk or a clod would make zero sense for a front office that still has to live in the real world and, again, had nothing to do with the big bad past. The only way the new regime can make jilted fans feel good is to go about the business of winning a lot for a long time, which seems to be what they're working on (although it's going to take a while). It's like the moral of that famous fable: "Sustained success means never having to say you're sorry for the losing that other people did."

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