COMMENTARY | I asked three avid Philadelphia 76ers fans if the team had any chance of successfully stopping LeBron James and beating the Miami Heat on Saturday night. Their returned text messages combined took up a total of six characters.
The answers came as no surprise. Nor did James's performance or the final outcome in the Heat's 114-90 win Saturday night.
James finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and did so despite sitting out half of the second quarter and most of the fourth. The King also dished out 11 assists to the members of his court, and did so with a willingness only surpassed by the ease in which he found his open teammates. The defending league MVP is having such an impressive statistical season that he could legitimately make a case to be named this year's Most Improved Player. He's a legitimate superstar on a great team.
Yet despite Philadelphia's lopsided loss, there was a buzz of excitement around the Wells Fargo Center as news spread that Andrew Bynum practiced with the team Friday night for the first time since establishing residence in the City of Brotherly Love. While there is still no timetable for his return to game action, it's the first glimmer of hope that the 7-foot center actually might don a red, white and blue jersey before the season ends.
"He looked like a guy who hadn't played in nine months," Sixers coach Doug Collins told reporters. "… I think he felt good that he was able to get out there. But I don't think that any bells and whistles should be set off right now that he's close to playing."
But even when he is back playing, Bynum is not going to take the Sixers to a championship level.
There is no doubt that having an All-Star-caliber center back on the court will greatly improve a team currently sitting as the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference and muddled in a five-game losing streak. But the reality is that Bynum is not going to turn the Sixers into a title contender.
Once his knees are healed enough for him to return, it will take Bynum a while to get back into playing shape and figure out how to best mesh his skills with those of his new teammates. But even if all goes better than planned, the Sixers will remain a tier below the upper-echelon teams in the league.
With Bynum in the lineup against the Heat, the Sixers probably still lose by double digits. Yes, he might have single-handedly scored the 24-points that were the difference on Saturday night, but if the game is closer, James's minutes increase and his triple-double stats become even more impressive.
Maybe the Sixers would have defeated the New York Knicks with Bynum in the lineup. The Knicks had also lost four straight games before beating their cross-state rivals Sunday night. In fact, the Knicks look like a team that the Sixers could become if Bynum returns to form as the player that excited Sixers fans when the trade was made for him in August. New York is a very good team with a superstar in Carmelo Anthony who is surrounded by a core group of solid players. The Sixers could have a similar makeup.
And that's the problem. History has shown that very good teams make the playoffs, but usually don't win championships. It's the great ones that do. And those great teams usually have more than one legitimate superstar.
When Bynum returns, even if he becomes that legitimate superstar, the Sixers will then have just one.
Jon Buzby is an award-winning sportswriter from Delaware and has followed the Sixers since 1976. He contributes regularly to multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.