The Philadelphia 76ers created a lot of hype this offseason by acquiring Andrew Bynum. Since then, Sixers fans like myself have been waiting to find out if it was worth the gamble. However, the Sixers and their fans won't get to start finding out for a while - which means the rest of this team will have to step out of the shadows.
With Bynum out indefinitely with knee problems, the Sixers won't get to find out how good they are with a No. 1 superstar for a while. Instead, they'll quickly find out if this club is good enough to win without him - which will actually be more revealing.
The buzz around Bynum helped disguise how the Sixers radically remade their supporting cast. Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala are gone, while Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen have been promoted into more central roles. With additional free agents like Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown on board, this is a rather untested collection of players, even with Bynum.
The hope was that Bynum would be an instant hit and help disguise any early problems elsewhere. Yet with no Bynum for the first few games, along with no Iguodala or Williams, it's hard to say who Philadelphia's leader really is right now. If the Sixers don't find one before Bynum gets back, it will signal the rest of the Eastern Conference that they have much less to fear from Philadelphia.
Bynum is the first true No. 1 player in this town since Allen Iverson - yet the last thing the Sixers need is another one-man show in town. But if the likes of Young, Turner, Allen and Spencer Hawes step up, and if newbies like Brown, Wright and Richardson fit in, then Bynum won't have to carry a big load when he takes the floor. If he doesn't, then he'll make the Sixers even more of a dangerous team, instead of one just riding his coattails.
Given that Bynum has never been the first option before, he probably needs to ease into the role anyway. He can't do that without help from his supporting cast - which won't be playing support for the first week or two of the season. But seeing them in action without Bynum will be the best sign of how good - or how disappointing - Philadelphia can really be.
The Sixers won't get to open the season with a big opening act from Bynum. But if they tread water or can't come together before he comes back, then he really will have to be a savior. Whenever he makes his Philadelphia debut, it would be nice to know that he'd be joining a capable team, instead of one that can't survive without him. Yet we'll have an idea of what the rest of the Sixers are made of soon enough, albeit sooner than most would like.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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