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Category Archives: Philadelphia 76ers
June 12, 2020Posted by on
While reading Rick Barry’s odd and awkward 1972 autobiography Confessions of a Basketball Gypsy, I ran into the story of Wilt Chamberlain being traded by the San Francisco Warriors in 1965 for Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash. It wasn’t just the lopsidedness of the trade that caught my attention, but the thou-doth-protest-too-much explanation from then Warriors-owner and trigger man of the deal, Franklin Mieuli (page 87):
“As great as Wilt Chamberlain was, he wasn’t a big draw. He carried a big contract with him. He forced us to play a great center, Nate Thurmond, at forward. Everyone figured we’d have to sell or trade Thurmond and bid on him. I figured maybe Chamberlain was the man to unload. If we’d have gotten off to a fast start the next season (1964-65) I might have stood pat, but we got off to a terrible start. We lost 17 straight. No one wanted to buy a ticket. The new operation in Philadelphia was willing to take Chamberlain back. I let them have him for Lee Shaffer, Connie Dierking, and Paul Neumann, plus some cash.”
There’s truth and variations, obfuscations, and alternative interpretations of what happened with the Wilt deal and much of it is contradictory to Mieuli’s retelling from 1972. Long-time sporting scribe for the New York Times, Leonard Koppett described the morass as, “Under the surface, moreover, lies such a labyrinth of interlocking interests, motivations and dependencies that even the conscientious basketball follower needs a refresher course to make subsequent conversation possible.” Here are the key characters involved in the deal:
- Wilt Chamberlain – basketball player and author of Wilt: Just like any other 7-foot black millionaire who lives next door
- Franklin Mieuli – San Francisco Warriors owner, purchased team with a Diners Club group in 1962. Sold team in 1986.
- Eddie Gottlieb, aka Gotty – NBA lifer, Philadelphia native, described as being the “shape of a half-keg of beer.” Knew Chamberlain from his teenage playing days in Philly, pressed league hard for territorial draft (teams would get rights to college players in their loosely-defined “territory”) in order to secure the services of Chamberlain and ultimately selected Wilt after his high school graduation. Purchased Philadelphia franchise in 1952 for $25k, sold it in 1962 for $875k.
- Ike Richman – described by Wilt in his autobiography as, “more than a friend and attorney and prospective employer to me; he was like a second father.” Richman purchased the Syracuse Nationals franchise from Danny Biasone (creator of the shot clock) and moved the franchise to Philadelphia.
There are a few themes in the loop of Chamberlain’s journey to San Francisco and back to Philadelphia: Obviously Chamberlain himself, the league’s walking calendar Eddie Gottlieb, and money.
The amount of speculation around why Mieuli dealt the mercurial “Big Musty” is legion. One of my favorites is NBA coach Alex Hannum’s, who says in Barry’s book, “I remember once when we had won the pennant with Wilt, Wilt suggested we be given something unusual like diamond stickpins instead of the usual rings. Mieuli gave rings. Later, Wilt got sick. When he rejoined the team, Mieuli met him at the airport with a diamond stickpin. Wilt looked at it and asked, ‘What’s this piece of ______?’ That’s why Wilt got traded, no other reason. You can win with Wilt. I did. Wilt is unfairly regarded.” (The blank is unclear in Barry’s book, but imagination can certainly be used.)
While Hannum’s explanation is the most colorful, it seems unlikely. Mieuli had killed his center’s trade value by making it clear to everyone at all-star weekend that he was available and while he was insistent on moving Chamberlain, it seems unlikely he was so insistent over a diamond stickpin and Wilt doesn’t mention said stickpin in his book. In his autobiography, Chamberlain, a frequent embellisher, describes Mieuli’s behavior at the 1965 all-star weekend: “when we all went to St. Louis for the January 13 all-star game, Mieuli told him (Hannum), ‘I’m not leaving St. Louis till I get rid of that son-of-a-bitch.’ … Mieuli wound up running around from hotel room to hotel room in St. Louis, trying to swing a deal for me, and he finally made it—at 12:30 in the morning, during the post-all-star-game party, on the winding staircase of Stan Musial’s restaurant. I understand it was one of the least confidential, most slapstick negotiations in NBA history.” This accounting is contrasted by Dave Lewis of the Long Beach Independent who wrote, “Hannum played a vital role in the deal by convincing the Warrior brass they’d be better off in the long run without him.” If there’s any accuracy to Lewis’s statement, it’s two-fold: 1) it makes the diamond stickpin story more of a tool for Hannum to absolve himself of any role in the trade and 2) Hannum had previously coached Shaffer and, according to Chamberlain, believed he could convince the AWOL player to come to San Francisco even though he was already on his way out of pro basketball.
Other explanations seek the conspiracy route and this was a thread that, given the incestuous components of the Philadelphian participants, was somewhat believable but when set alongside Gottlieb’s long-term position in the league, is ultimately unsubstantiated. From The Philadelphia Enquirer’s Fred Byrod on January 19th, 1965 (this link, and others that will appear, require subscription or free trial for access):
“A neat, three-way solution was arrived at, so the story went: San Francisco shipped Chamberlain back to Philadelphia instead of paying Gottlieb. Philadelphia gave the cash it announced it had paid for Wilt to Biasone (former owner of the Syracuse Nationals who sold the franchise to Ike Richman and Irv Kosloff). For his part, Gotty was handed a piece of the 76ers. Depending on your viewpoint, this explanation either contradicts, or agrees with, another rumor widespread ever since Richman and Kosloff brought the Syracuse club to Philadelphia—that they were really just fronting for Gottlieb, then on the coast, rolling in his new wealth, in his new role as GM of the Warriors. After a decent period of waiting on the coast, Gottlieb was supposed to reappear on the Philadelphia front and take over the reins from Richman, his longtime lawyer, and Kosloff, his one-time school pupil in South Philadelphia.”
Byrod then goes on to quote Gottlieb,
“San Francisco paid me half the purchase price ($425k) in the first place. I was to get the rest in four payments over five years, and I’ve received every cent due me thus far. I’m still a stockholder, as well as eastern consultant, for the Warriors. That’s a matter of record. The league wouldn’t let me have interest in two clubs at the same time. I’ve had three or four offers from other clubs, in case I leave the Warriors, in the last year. Don’t you think they would find out about it if I had money in the 76ers? Would they want me then? Get it straight, I never had any money in the 76ers. I don’t have any money in them now. And the way things are, I never expect to have any money in them.”
With the emphatic mic drop, Gottlieb seemed to be telling the truth. With Gotty’s role with the Warriors reduced to the vague “eastern consultant,” and the triangle of relationships (business and personal) between Chamberlain, Gottlieb, and Richman, it’s not a stretch to believe Gotty was angling for a way back in Philadelphia NBA ownership, but if so, it never materialized on paper or in any official legal capacity. He would eventually become a consultant for the league and personally created the schedule by hand up until the late 1970s.
That doesn’t fully address Mieuli’s thought process. After all, business is and always has been built on relationships. So let’s focus on the money. In my readings, it was reported that the money Philadelphia sent to the San Francisco franchise ranged anywhere from $75,000 to $300,000 (per Lewis, Long Beach Independent) and lots of observers had opinions how much money and in whose pockets it landed:
- Theory #1: See above for Fred Byrod’s recapping that suggests the money went to Danny Biasone (former Syracuse owner).
- Theory #2: Abe Saperstein, Harlem Globetrotter founder and one-time associate of Gottlieb, as retold by the San Francisco Examiner’s Prescott Sullivan: “Abe saw the so-called $300k deal as a cashless transaction. ‘I don’t believe any money changed hands. I think what happened was the Warriors gave up Chamberlain so as to square the books with Eddie Gottlieb who, in my opinion, has never been too far away from Philadelphia.’” (Worth noting Gotty and Saperstein, per Sullivan, “have not been on friendly terms for years” and it was speculated that this loss of friendship was a result of Saperstein’s view that Gotty had blocked his entry into NBA ownership.)
- Theory #3: Terry Pluto in Tall Tales: “All that mattered was the bucket of bucks; the other guys were just bodies. The amount was $150k, which doesn’t sound like much now, but you could pay an entire starting team for $150k in 1965. Also the Warriors deducted Chamberlain’s $200k salary from their roster.”
- Theory #4: Wilt Chamberlain, in his autobiography: “It was announced that Philadelphia gave Mieuli $300,000 … for me, but the figure was actually much lower—and most of it went to me, not Mieuli. He was behind in my salary, and suspect that’s another reason I was traded—I kept bugging him for my money.”
The above theories vary in their believability and when you consider Wilt frequently wrote about being paid more than his official salary, (page 172 in his autobiography, “Although I’d been making more than $100,000 for several years by then [1965 when he was traded], this was the first time any clubowner publicly admitted he was paying me that much,” and his disclosure (page 185) that Richman (friend, lawyer and “second father” Richman) “had promised me a piece of the team … Ike promised me half of his half—25 percent,” it’s difficult to sort through the murky waters of self-serving explanations and land on a definitive clarity. It’s fair to speculate that the number was well-under $300k (per Pluto and Wilt). Those funds likely went directly to Mieuli who paid Chamberlain any back payments. This corroborates Wilt’s narrative, and a degree of Pluto’s while discounting Byrod’s retelling of the cynical rumor and Saperstein’s likely uninformed and potentially jaded view (although in the same piece with Saperstein, he claims, “Wilt broke into pro basketball play for me on the Globetrotters. I have been more-or-less his advisor ever since.”).
Money was a real motivator for Mieuli who had experienced a rocky first few years as an NBA owner: the franchise bled money its first season (62-63), made the finals in its second (63-64), and had the worst record in the league its third season while trading the league’s most recognizable player in Chamberlain (64-65). In the New York Times piece linked above, Leonard Koppett wrote that “San Francisco, apparently, was not ready for pro basketball … In 1962-63, the team was a total flop financially.” This is in line with Mieuli’s statement above. The other piece, again from Koppett, that speaks to an unsustainability in the pro basketball model of the 1960s, provides this historical context, “Gottlieb (as owner of the Philadelphia franchise), under present tax laws, could not afford to go on paying Wilt’s salary, since basketball’s gate receipts have a built-in low limit. He tried to sell Wilt to New York, but the Knicks weren’t interested. So he sold the whole franchise, for some $800,000, to San Francisco.”
The notion (from Mieuli) that Wilt wasn’t a draw is likely true, but also likely rooted in the struggle of pro basketball to land in San Francisco in the early 1960s as it wasn’t a topic that I’ve seen in subsequent Chamberlain narratives. Lewis from the Long Beach Independent somewhat contextualized this, “Wilt has always been a good drawing card in his hometown,” but clarifying that, “He (Chamberlain) attracts the biggest crowds on the road and in the NBA the home teams keep the entire gates.” Mieuli took it a step further in a piece written by Roland Lazenby: “the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. I guess most fans are for the little man and the underdog, and Wilt is neither. He’s easy to hate, and we were the best draw in the NBA on the road, when people came to see him lose.”
Despite the lack of clarity on the details of the deal and the sketchy intrigue of its Philadelphia participants, both of the principals (Mieuli and Chamberlain) agreed it was a sensible deal in spirit and concept that was ultimately a bad dead in its execution:
Wilt: “Trading me really wasn’t such a bad idea for San Francisco. Nate (Thurmond) was 23 then, five years younger than me, with his whole future ahead of him. If the Warriors could get some other good, young players for me, they figured they might have the nucleus of a helluva good team. But Mieuli was so anxious to dump me, he made a lousy deal.”
Mieuli: “I could have gotten a lot more money for Chamberlain, but I wanted the players I got … People forget that Shaffer could have been an all-pro for ten years. But he was a flake. … Shaffer never reported. That alone made it a bad deal. Still, I’d make it again.”
And ultimately, both men landed in better basketball situations. The Warriors picked up Rick Barry in the 1965 draft. Mieuli unceremoniously dumped Hannum after the 1966 season and hired Bill Sharman who pushed a fast team faster (127.4 pace) and helped elevate the young team to the NBA finals. Of the three players in the Chamberlain deal, only Paul Neumann was still with the team. He played 78 games as their point guard before retiring at the end of the season, at 29-years-old. In retrospect in 1967, Jack Kiser of the Philadelphia News wrote of the trade, “Neumann is still playing a lot of guard for the Warriors, but Dierking is playing center for Cincinnati, Shaffer is operating a trucking line in North Carolina and the cash has been spent.”
Chamberlain would be bounced twice more by the Celtics including a game-seven heartbreaker in 1965 after the trade, but he would eventually be reunited with Hannum in 1966 for what turned out to be one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Buying into Hannum’s team-centric approach, Chamberlain helped lead Philly to a then NBA-record 68 wins. They knocked Boston out in five games and in the clincher, Wilt went for 29-points, 36-rebounds, and 13-assists. Beating Boston was a special achievement in itself and made the finals against Mieuli’s Warriors something of a footnote. Philly won the series in six games.
Did some funny business happen to ultimately grease the wheels of Chamberlain’s return to Philadelphia? Between the weak ass return Mieuli got and the tight relationship between the Chamberlain-Gottlieb-Richman triumvirate, the answer is an unconfident, “probably” and that probably watered down by an acknowledgment that, if the chicanery did occur, it was likely a low level infraction at worst. I come away from the whole investigation most interested (or entertained, perhaps) by two components: 1) Alex Hannum’s damn diamond stickpin story. I love it and want it to be true. 2) Lee Shaffer. A fifth overall pick in 1960 out of UNC who was taken ahead of Lenny Wilkens and Satch Sanders, he was a 17-ppg scorer in 196 career games, appeared in zero games in 64-65 when he was traded, and vanished into the North Carolina trucking business like a non-homicidal Keyser Soze shaking off that limp. Lee Shaffer wasn’t likely a ten-year all-pro or good enough to swing the fortunes of the deal for the Warriors, but he was an effective player who retired at 24. Lee, if you’re reading this, I’d love to talk about your decision. I’m guessing it’s a lot simpler than what my imagination makes it out to be.
Epilogue (on Lee Shaffer)
Lee Shaffer did not vanish into thin air. A mild amount of research led me to this Reddit thread on r/VintageNBA which references a no-longer-available piece by basketball historian and deep well of encyclopedic knowledge, Curtis M. Harris. According to the thread, the original Harris piece, and comments on that piece,
“Lee Shaffer wasn’t hired away from the NBA to be a trucker. Lee Shaffer was hired away by Tom Kenan, whom was his college roommate. The Kenans are an old and storied North Carolina family with huge interests in trucking, oil, land and many members of the family are full time philanthropists.
Lee Shaffer retired almost a decade ago as the Chairman of Kenan Advantage Group. His son lettered in football in UNC and is now VP of operations in the trucking branch of Kenan Advantage Group, one of the largest, if not the largest chemical transportation companies in the NA continent. Quitting the NBA to go into business with his college roommate was the right call.”
I won’t presume to creep into the cranium of Shaffer and assess the rightness or wrongness or indifferentness of his decision to leave professional basketball, but I will include some anecdotes from a story by Mike White of the Post Gazette (Pittsburgh) on its unknown homegrown, Shaffer:
- Shaffer on Tom Heinsohn: “We just missed out on playing the Boston Celtics in the playoffs one year and they didn’t have anyone who could guard me, either. They would put Tom Heinsohn on me, but he couldn’t guard his grandmother and you can tell him that.”
- Shaffer scored 41 points in a high school playoff game as a 15-year-old senior.
- Shaffer broke his leg during the 63-64 season which contributed to his premature retirement.
- Shaffer claims, “Bill Russell was the best player there ever was. There can’t be an argument. But Oscar Robertson was the best player I ever saw. There’s a difference.”
November 30, 2015Posted by on
Do you remember that stretch of games from Alvin Robertson back in November of 1986? He was a third-year shooting guard for the Spurs out of the University of Arkansas already established as being a tough defender. Hell, he’d already been named to the All-Star team in his second season when he set the NBA record for steals-per-game with 3.7. 29 years ago, starting on November 15th, 1986, Robertson came out with seven steals against the Suns, then followed it up with five more games of six steals or more with a streak-high of ten steals against the Clippers on November 22nd.
In the ensuing 29 years, the longest streak of six steals or more that any player amassed was two games. It’s not easy to do. There’s a knack to steals that’s part anticipation, part gamble, part identifying the sucker at the table. I’ve seen Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul take risks that leave backline defenders painfully naked, caught between speeding point guards on the front and soon-to-be alley oop dunking giants on the back, but hey, it’s taking the risk for an easy bucket and being a thief doesn’t always equate with being a great defender, but getting six or more steals several games in a row means you’re doing at least something right.
So it came as a surprise when the Philadelphia 76ers and their 0-18 roster produced some kind of off-kilter heir to Alvin Robertson in this kid Robert Covington. Covington was born back in 1990, a good four years after Robertson was stalking NBA teams and taking the ball from them with unprejudiced kleptomania. And with all the Stocktons, Jordans, and Pauls that have hunted the ball over the years, it’s the 6’9” 24-year-old from Tennessee State that sniffing around at what hard ass Robertson reached all those years ago.
Unfortunately, the depth of NBA.com’s stats database doesn’t allow us to go back and scout out every one of those Robertson steals, but we can look at all of the Covington thefts over these past three games. Covington’s streak started less than a week ago on November, 25th with six steals against the Celtics. It was in a losing effort like all Philadelphia games this year, but his opportunistic instincts were on display. He was beaten by Jae Crowder on a screen, but used his long arms to poke the ball away from behind and force the TO. He capitalized on a full-court press, played help defense, stripped a defensive rebounder, and made himself a nuisance to the Celtics. Reviewing his six steals against Boston wasn’t overly impressive. He made decent plays, but I needed to see more.
Against Houston when Harden dropped 50 with nine TOs, Brett Brown got creative or desperate or something and slid Covington over to the five. In the end it didn’t make a difference, but again, the long SF/PF/C took full advantage of a Houston team (and Harden) that struggles nearly as bad as Philly does when it comes to taking care of the ball. He was directly responsible for at least four of Harden’s nine turnovers while also seizing upon young Clint Capela like the tiger on the savanna feasting on the naïve goat. Tiger Covington kicked some Rocket ass with 28 points and eight steals and broader defensive array than what I saw against Boston. Reading the passer’s eyes (in a couple cases Harden telegraphing passes) and identifying un-sure-handed opponents (Capela) allowed him to take advantage of their mistakes.
Finally, on the 29th of November, the streak continued in what was, based on the tape, his best effort yet. Instead of being the opportunistic poacher I saw against Boston and Houston, Covington swallowed defenders, poking and prodding at the ball with go-go gadget arms. He picked the pocket of sure-handed Mike Conley twice, stripped Jeff Green, and read passing lanes with eyes attached to a head that is on a constant swivel on defense. Six more steals against the Grizz, but he offset those with an ugly eight turnovers.
That’s six, eight, and six steals in consecutive games paired up with four, four, and eight turnovers for a steal-to-turnover rate of 1.3:1 (21 to 16) which is a suspect ratio for a wing.
Covington is no Alvin Robertson. Robertson averaged 2.7 steals/game for his career and we haven’t seen a guy average 2.7 steals/game for a season since CP3 in 2008-09. Covington, like the rest of these Sixers, is nigh impossible to get a true read on because the circumstances deviate so far from what we’re used to analyzing. I don’t have a clue how or what Covington becomes, but his current stretch in 2015-16 is, in its own compartmentalized way, impressive. In nine games he’s appeared in this season, he’s giving Philly 3.6 steals/night while pulling off a streak we haven’t seen in close to 30 years. On December 1st, the Sixers host the Lakers and all their on and off-court mega-circus act. I don’t have a clue what happens in this game, but it’s likely at least one of Philly’s current streaks will come to an end.
March 13, 2013Posted by on
I think it was a couple weeks ago after yet another hopeless Andrew Bynum update that I started ideating about a post chronicling the beginning-to-present saga of Bynum’s disappointing tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. The comments below were easy enough to compile, but the format proved to be more challenging than I would’ve liked. I tried my hand at Storify, the web-based platform that allows users to aggregate social media and/or content into a single, cohesive story. It’s a beautiful presentation, much prettier than what you’ll find below, but it failed to suit my needs, so I’ve laid out the ongoing dialogue between Bynum, the Sixers organization and the media as it’s played out over the past eight months in the form of quotes, injury updates, speculation and frustration. My comments are included throughout.
*Prior warning: It’s a longish post that at times feels repetitive. I’ve bolded areas that I’ve found amusing, disturbing, intriguing and insightful.
The trade was finalized on August 10th, 2012 and these are the first comments we get:
Andrew Bynum: “I’m leaning toward making this my home.” – 8/15/2012
Andrew Bynum: “I went through the whole season last year and didn’t have any setbacks…As of right now, my knees feel good.” – 8/16/12
Dancing with Noah (DWN): That comment about his knees seems ominously jinxing. I’m not the superstitious type, but given the benefit of hindsight, Bynum should’ve kept those comments to himself.
Doug Collins (Philly coach): “The day of the press conference we went back and he, I and Jason Richardson spent some time together along with some of the other people in the organization and I think for Drew, I think a big part of him is he’s excited to be coming home. He was out in LA and I don’t think he ever really fit into the LA scene. I talked to him the other day and he was ready to go over to Germany to have the little procedure, the little injection done in his knee, he’s gotten home in the country here and is excited to be back near his family and everything like that. I think he’s excited that he’s going to be the primary focus of us playing through the post rather than being the third option in LA. He’s a very smart and bright guy, he’s articulate, he knows the game and we talked a little bit about it. Sometimes you say things and I think even he would agree that some of the things that he said came across maybe being a little immature a couple of times. He knows the play on JJ Barea is going to be seen forever and he will always be a part of that but I just feel like he’s in a great place.” – 9/12/12
Doug Collins: “When the opportunity to get an Andrew Bynum came about, you have to obviously do that because you can’t get a low-post center of that magnitude. I think all the things we’ve tried to do we’ve accomplished, but more importantly we did it in a way that going forward this organization is not hamstrung with bad contracts, we have flexibility.” – 9/14/12
Doug Collins: “Andrew is an incredibly well-spoken young guy. He’s articulate, he’s bright, he’s smart and he knows the game. I think he’s happy to be home. He just got a place in the suburbs here and said he loves being here on the East Coast. I think he views this as a great opportunity to be viewed as a central figure on a team every single night that’s going to count on him. I think he views this as a step in his career where he really has a chance to show what he’s all about. He’s got a good sense of humor. I feel really good about him.” – 9/14/12
DWN: At this point, over a month into the Bynum era, everything’s going great. Collins has publicly explained the trade, commented on Bynum’s comfort level, brought up his previous challenges with immaturity as a way of highlighting his current maturity level and even applauded the big man’s sense of humor—presumably this was not a reference to Bynum’s ever-evolving hairstyles.
Tom DiLeo (Philly GM): DiLeo: Bynum came back from getting knee injections in Germany last week and “he says he feels very good.” – 9/24/12
Tom DiLeo: “His agent said he wants to come to the surroundings and see the team, see the atmosphere…He’s been very, very happy. His agent said he hasn’t seen him this happy in a long time. I think everything will work out. I think we’ll like Andrew and Andrew will like it here. At the appropriate time, we’ll do the negotiations.” – 9/25/12
DWN: Even if you’re approaching things in late September from a place of cynicism, you have to be feeling semi-good about Bynum in Philadelphia. His few comments have been positive. The coach and GM are thrilled to have the next in a long line of Philly big men that dates back to Wilt, Darryl Dawkins (he was entertaining at least), Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo and now Bynum. Of course the more cynical of you were saying, “It’s Bynum! It’s only a matter of time before he gets hurt!”
John Mitchell (Reporter for Philadelphia Enquirer): Speaking of Bynum, he looks to be in great condition. He’s trim. He’s engaging his teammates and coaches. And if they were playing games right now, Bynum would be out there. – 10/7/12
Andrew Bynum: “I’m not sure, it’s really up to the trainers and the doctors right now, but I think if all the beans were on the table right now I’d be out there. It definitely feels better. A lot of it has to do with my pain threshold. It’s just to the point where I can’t run up and down with the team right now.” – 10/9/12
DWN: I think this is something, as a fan, journalist or blogger, we’re used to hearing (albeit, in different terms): If it was the playoffs, I’d be playing. Bynum’s “beans on the table” comment is something new and appreciated.
Doug Collins: “I just see he comes in and he’s got the little wrap and the brace on,” said Collins of Bynum’s right knee attire. “He’s out on the floor and he’s spinning and doing some stuff, doing some of the things he couldn’t do before. Plus, I see it in his personality, he’s happier. I think he senses he’s getting closer to play. Anybody that’s ever been injured, especially going to a new team where so much is expected, you want to get out there and play. It’s a downer. He’s worked his tail off. When he’s not watching he’s either doing something on the elliptical or in the weight room working and doing something. You can just sense that he’s feeling better. That’s a positive sign.” – 10/9/12
DWN: Collins continues to remain update and optimistic. After all, it’s still a few weeks from opening tip at this point. As the season goes on, you can feel this hopefulness slipping away not just in Collins’s tone, but also in his empathy towards Bynum.
Doug Collins: “If Andrew misses some games, we’ve got to be prepared to win some games without him,” Collins said prior to Saturday’s game. “Obviously, when he’s out there, our team is going to be a lot different.” – 10/14/12
Doug Collins: “Andrew’s doing well,” Collins said Monday before the Sixers improved their preseason record to 2-1 with a 107-75 victory over Boston at the Wells Fargo Center. “He’s progressing and on track to where I think he hoped he would be at this time. Obviously, the next step for him is getting running and weight-bearing. A lot of that is going to be how he responds to increased activity,” Collins said when asked if Bynum would be ready for the start of the season. “I know how important the home opener is, but we’re not going to do anything silly and have another setback where it costs you and now you have to miss those kinds of games.” – 10/17/12
DWN: I like how Collins is setting and managing expectations regarding Bynum. He’s saying the right things and most importantly, it feels like he’s being honest with the media, fans and himself.
Andrew Bynum: “I think pain and swelling are indications of what’s going on,” Bynum said. “I don’t feel pressure, but psychologically it stinks. It’s tough. I want to come in and help out.” – 10/25/12
Tom DiLeo: “He is improving,” DiLeo said. “It’s nothing new. It’s just not completely healed. It’s our understanding that when this heals, it will be over.” – 10/25/12
Doug Collins: “I have no idea,” Collins said. “It’s all hypothetical. We’re not going to look over at (Bynum as) a lifeline. If this team feels like we can’t win without him, we won’t win.” Collins also said he’s “sure Andrew is incredibly disappointed. When you’re hurt and can’t play, it’s no fun. I’m sure he wants to be out here as much as anybody.” – 10/25/12
DWN: It’s been a slow progression regarding the comments. Collins had previously communicated that he might miss games and now DiLeo’s including the qualifier, “it’s our understanding” which opens the door for things to change. Collins’s comments on the 25th introduce the possibly of the unknown whereas just eight days previous, it was a different diagnosis.
Tom DiLeo: “He’s improving, but it’s still the same situation…” – 11/6/12
NBA.com: Andrew received a fresh MRI and was seen again by Dr. Altchek this past week on Monday, November 5. At that evaluation, Dr. Altcheck extended Andrew’s return date for a second time by an additional three weeks. – 11/6/12
Brian Windhorst (ESPN): Sixers fear Andrew Bynum has done additional damage to his knees by bowling recently, multiple sources told ESPN. Story link coming. – 11/17/12
Brian Windhorst: Andrew Bynum confirms he hurt his knee bowling. Said it swelled up after he hit lanes. – 11/18/12 (date of bowling incident was 11/10)
DWN: If the mood had been dimming the previous couple weeks, the bowling incident officially cast a pall over the Sixers and Bynum in particular. Up to this point, stories relating to his knee condition(s) were primarily Philadelphia-based sources and were mostly sympathetic to his situation. ESPN gets a hold if this oddball piece that reveals Bynum to be somewhat careless and suddenly it’s not just Philadelphia that has an opinion on him, but sports fans across the country.
Tom DiLeo: “We have to continue to be patient,” Sixers GM Tony DiLeo told reporters recently. “We want to be cautious. We’re looking long term in this, not short term, and big picture. We’re going to do what’s best for Andrew and what’s best for the organization and try to get him as healthy as he can be and get him back on the court when he is ready.” – 11/21/12
Tom DiLeo: “We’re anticipating he’ll be back at some point,” DiLeo said. “We hope he will be back. We have plans for the future if he is not back with us, but we are anticipating this is a short-term thing. We want to plan on him for the long term.” DiLeo’s primary message during the nine-minute session with the media was to say the Dec. 10 target date for Bynum to return to basketball-related activities is off, he is out “indefinitely” and there is no timetable for Bynum’s return. “We don’t know when he’ll be back,” DiLeo said. “Only Andrew can answer that question.” – 11/25/12
DWN: Within a week of ESPN breaking the bowling story, Bynum’s status has become increasingly bleak. DiLeo’s changed the perspective to “long term” and “big picture” and in the same sentence makes the leap from “anticipating” to “hope.” The cherry on top though is the final comment that “only Andrew” can answer about when he’ll be back. These are statements that, to my untrained public relations eye, are completely misplaced. By putting the responsibility of insight into this mysterious injury on the player, DiLeo is (whether intentionally or not) implying Bynum either knows when he can return (and isn’t sharing) or is able to return and is choosing not to.
Tom DiLeo: “At the time of the trade we had four doctors look at his MRI. We knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise type player. We took that risk,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo told reporters. “His knees now and the MRIs are not the same. It’s a different type situation. But we are still looking at big picture and long term. We’re hopeful that after this situation heals we can get him back on the court and he’s got a future here.” – 12/6/12
DWN: Neither Collins or Bynum has commented to the media since 10/25/12. DiLeo’s acting as the mouthpiece and attempting to explain that Bynum’s knees have changed since August. A statement that will be reinforced later on in March by Sixers CEO Adam Aron.
Andrew Bynum: “My left knee is still really sore, right knee is actually better, so that’s good,” said Bynum, who last spoke with the media on Nov. 25. “It’s just pain, just by walking around. Worst case scenario it’s another month.” Asked if he was going to get an MRI (or two) at that time, Bynum said: “Probably so, I’m not sure yet but probably. There’s nothing I can really do about it. It’s arthritis in the knees, cartilage is missing so that’s not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, in the next 3 to 5 years maybe there’s something out there that really does help, but for right now it’s really just a waiting game. If this was the Finals and it could be potentially the end, I’d be helping this team win because I think that’s a serious time and you want to be a part of that. But other than that I don’t think, especially right now, it would be a good time to risk anything. Why risk it when you have time to come back and be 100 percent? My right knee is feeling really, really good. I would definitely test it on the right side. I think it’s more evidence that my knees weren’t right if they got hurt playing because it’s definitely going to happen if I play basketball [right now].” – 12/10/12
Tom DiLeo: Asked about the progress of Andrew Bynum before the game, Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said there really is no update and that Bynum is progressing from his knee issues. Asked if Bynum was past the first of the six stages of progress toward recovery, DiLeo said yes but was very vague as to what that means. There probably will be an update when the team returns from its road trip next week. – 1/2/13
DWN: We’re into the new year and there aren’t any updates. Bynum’s comments in December referred to arthritis and missing cartilage and speculated on the potential for cartilage regeneration in the future. Then a few weeks later, reporters and DiLeo are discussing “six stages of … recovery” while simultaneously being described as “vague.” There’s a clear frustration on Philadelphia’s part and it’s unclear how much is directed at Bynum and how much is directed at the situation itself. Keep in mind, Bynum’s bowling excursion didn’t help anything and he’s still making statements like “If this was the Finals … “ and implying that he could play. Given that his contract expires at the end of the season, this is a terrible situation for Philly. On the one hand, you want your potential star big man to take his time and not damage his knees further. On the other, you’re looking at a potential scenario where you traded away an All-Star for an injured player who you’re paying $16.5 million this season just to rehab, potentially get healthy and sign with another team the following season.
Andrew Bynum: “It’s definitely moving in a positive direction,” Bynum, who has been out with bone bruises and swelling cartilage, said. “I’m feeling better every day. I’m back to the weights and on the treadmill and I should be running here soon.” – 1/7/13
Andrew Bynum: “I have no idea exactly, I just want to get back,” Bynum said Monday. “I think, I’m hoping around the all-star break. That’s what I’m hoping. I have no idea exactly when I’ll be back. It’s minimal,” Bynum said. “It’s not hurting.” – 1/14/13
Doug Collins: “All you want is a chance, you want hope. You are starting to get hope again.” – 1/18/13
DWN: It’s unclear if Collins’s comments on 1/18/13 are motivated by Bynum’s public (and likely private) comments from a few days previous. But Collins’ use of “hope” feels genuine while Bynum’s use is closer to our daily usage of the word which is more absentminded without actual feeling behind it. As we progress into the spring, you start to wonder about the honesty and intent of Bynum’s comments. Does he really think he’s coming back or is he just trying to please people or even play them? Let’s get going here.
Andrew Bynum: “It’s going pretty good. I shot around at shoot-around (Monday morning) with the guys so I’m getting a bit better on the court. If the treadmill would stop breaking down I would be able to do a little bit more, but I’m going well. It’s like every 3 days or so it needs service, so I don’t know. I’ve been involved a little bit in practice just shooting around with the guys and stuff like that. My knees feel good and I’m not feeling any pain so this is all good and I just want to keep it going.” – 1/21/13
Tom DiLeo: “We’re hoping for the first of February for practice,” DiLeo said. “But we have to just wait and see how it goes. He’s done a lot of work, but he hasn’t had to go hard and stop and start. That will be important.” – 1/29/13
Michael Curry (Philly assistant coach): “It’s exciting. You give up a lot to get him, and when he’s healthy and on the court, he’s one heck of a player,” said associate head coach Michael Curry, who ran practice Sunday in place of an ailing Doug Collins. “The fact that his level of activity has picked up and he’s here working three hours or so, you’re going to get excited. You start to get ready for the next phase, so we know what kind of sets we want to run and what kind of personnel we want on the court with him.” – 1/29/13
DWN: I like Curry’s comments here. He’s articulating something that I imagine the front office, Collins, Sixers players and Philly fans feel, but the difference is that Collins’s and DiLeo’s jobs could be on the line with this. These guys are excited too, but I think they have more riding on Bynum than Curry does. I don’t say this to imply Curry’s just along for the ride in Philadelphia, but rather to point out that any frustration I might be reading into regarding Collins and DiLeo is likely a justified or at least understandable frustration. This can’t be fun …
Andrew Bynum: “February is the target, I guess, My doctor said it’s just a fear of a big bone bruise, so I have to nurse it all the way back up to playable conditions without pain or a setback. They (the injections) didn’t really help that much,” Bynum said. “My right knee feels phenomenal and the left knee still feels some of that stuff a bit. It was an attempt to ease the pain a bit, but nothing has really changed that much.” – 2/4/13
Tom DiLeo: “When he practices, bangs, jumps, moves — that’s really the most critical part,” DiLeo said on the court prior to
Wednesday’s game against the Pacers. “We’ll just have to see how he reacts during that phase.” DiLeo denied that he told reporters he expected Bynum to practice this week and is unsure when Bynum will be able to work out with the team. “I never said he would practice with us the first week of February,” DiLeo said. “I said he would increase his basketball activities the first week of February. I don’t know where that came from.” – 2/7/13
Andrew Bynum: “I’m not really optimistic. When I get on the court, that’s when I’ll be ready. I’m trying as hard as I can. It would suck to play through pain, but sometimes you have to.” – 2/11/13
Dough Collins: “The question’s going to be, at some point and time, of him getting out there. Right now, he has not done anything with contact.” – 2/18/13
DWN: I can’t tell if it’s just from me going through this material so many times or if it’s equally evident in the quotes and the repetition, but there’s sadness (Bynum), frustration (DiLeo), helplessness (Collins) and desperation (Holiday) in these words and by mid-February it had only gotten worse. The hope in January and February comes off as nothing but a tease. How could you not presume the worst at this point?
Andrew Bynum: “Yeah, [I’m 100 percent sure I’ll play this year],” Bynum said. “I don’t see any surgeries and no doctor has told me I need them. I think I just have to grind up the cartilage that’s loose and I’ll feel better, so that’s what we’re working on doing. I think it’s just dealing with it, to be honest. Without some type of intervention or surgery it’s just dealing with it.” – 2/19/13
Doug Collins: “He’s really the only one who knows. Everyone else is just speculating,” Collins said. “But I think he’s feeling better and I think he knows that at some point he’s going to play through pain. I talked to him this morning and told him that once you’ve been around the NBA for a while and have had some injuries, very rarely do you feel great. You always have some aches and pains. But I think he can compete and do well.” – 2/19/13
DWN: Those last two comments feel like indirect communication; almost as if Collins and Bynum are sitting a room with a therapist that happens to have a tablet and a Twitter account with millions of followers. Doug and Drew won’t speak directly to each other, but by opening up to the therapist, they open up to the whole world.
Doug Collins: “He looked like a guy who hadn’t played in nine months,” Collins said. “I don’t think any bells and whistles should be sent off that he’s close to playing. Collins said Bynum would inform them of any future updates, as he has during the entire process. You should talk to him,” Collins said. “I don’t want to be the messenger because they shoot messengers.” – 2/24/13
DWN: For starters, Bynum informing the team of updates seems like the wrong direction for the communication to flow, but by allowing Bynum’s personal orthopedic doctor to run the show, the Sixers have somewhat hamstrung themselves. Beyond that, once again we see Philly going out of their way to put the onus on Bynum—not on Bynum’s knee, not on Bynum’s doctor, but directly on him. Money absolutely matters, but all things being equal, I’d guess Bynum will remember the lines the Philadelphia brass has drawn in the sand.
Doug Collins: “He played the five-on-zero Friday,” Collins said. “I saw him yesterday and he still hadn’t been able to do anything yet. I didn’t ask him [about any pain]. I just had a chance to visit with him a little bit. I know it is tough on him. He wants to play. We traded for him to come in here and play and he hasn’t been able to and that is hard. Hard on him and hard on everyone, and so I feel badly. For us, it is a little different. We traded three guys to get a guy who hasn’t played all year,” he said. “The Bulls have a player that is injured, but he has been here the whole time. Our guy came in, so the dynamics are different. We gave up a lot in that trade and that has been tough.” – 2/28/13
Andrew Bynum: That’s true, I don’t want to play in pain,” the Sixers center said. Bynum then reiterated the fact that he doesn’t care about the public perception of that: “I’m 25. It’s my life. They just grew cartilage in a petri dish, science is looking at it,” Bynum stated, possibly alluding to the future creation of cartilage. “Doctors are looking at it, they’re going to come up with something.” – 3/1/13
Andrew Bynum: “Now it’s getting a little late, so I really don’t know,” Bynum said when asked if he were considering sitting out the final two months of the 76ers season. “I played in one scrimmage and [I have] a four- to five-day setback,” Bynum said of his latest setback. Bynum added that he is “just getting treatment and trying to push the fluid out” of his knee. – 3/1/13
DWN: On 2/19, Bynum was 100% sure he’d play this season and over the course of less than two weeks, he’s revisiting his “cartilage in a petri dish” idea, taking a defensive stance (“I’m 25. It’s my life.”), and finally putting it out there that he may not play.
Doug Collins: “During this period of time, he’s not made any progress, and that’s obviously very concerning,” Collins said. “His concern that he was moving forward and he got to a point with the swelling where he’s making no progress.” – 3/1/13
Adam Aron (Philly CEO): “This is a move that should have worked,” Aron said. “But, unfortunately, he got an injury in September and it’s been compounded since, post-trade and we haven’t seen a day. The fans hopes were justifiably high that the Sixers had made a move, a bold move, that would catapult us back into the top teams in the NBA. It hasn’t worked. I can’t get into his exact medical condition,” Aron said. “But I can say this, which is obvious to all of us: All season long he’s had bone bruise issues. He’s had cartilage problems. It’s March. He’s still not playing. He hasn’t played basketball since last May. Clearly, Andrew is dealing with some knee problems that have prevented him from playing in the NBA. Aron said “four doctors cleared the trade in August, and six doctors have actively been treating him and examining him all year long.” The Sixers’ CEO insisted that the team, until now, was confident Bynum would play this season.
“We certainly thought he was going to play in August,” Aron said. “That’s why we made the trade. Even in early October, we thought he would play on opening night. Then there was a delay. Then there was [another] delay. Even when we announced that he was out indefinitely, inside the team we thought he would play in January or February. He himself, in February, said he would play in February. But here we are in March and the team is disappointed. Our fan base is disappointed. And that’s the story of the season. Right now, none of us really know where Andrew Bynum will be in four days or four weeks, let alone in four years.” – 3/4/13
Tom DiLeo: “I think we’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” DiLeo said Tuesday, before the Sixers hosted the Boston Celtics. “So I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew basically will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information. Like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab, see how that goes. There’s an option of washing it, see how that goes.” – 3/6/13
Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics coach): “He’s (Collins) a friend, so I don’t want my friends to do poorly, unless it’s against me,” Rivers said. “It’s very similar situation to one I had with Grant Hill (in Orlando). It’s tough because your guys see him practicing every day. And with Grant, he played seven games that one year (four, in 2000-01). Each game, he was going to play and didn’t play. And this is the week, next week, he’s going to play in. You just felt like you were always caught in limbo. The thing with Doug can be tougher at times because with Grant, we’re small, we’re athletic and we’re going to play the same style. With Andrew, you’re going to change some of the way you play when he comes back. It’s just hard for everyone. We endured it in Orlando, we got through it, but it was no fun.” – 3/6/13
DWN: I was glad to come across that Rivers quote as Grant Hill’s a great example of a worst-case-scenario for Bynum. Hill ended getting huge paydays and is likely set for life in terms of finances, but when Bynum thinks about returning this season to a team that has zero chance of winning the NBA Championship, I wonder how much Grant Hill’s situation or the potential for a Grant Hill situation weighs on his young mind.
At the time I write this, it’s March 12th, 2013; six days after the latest official update has been released and Bynum has yet to suit up in a Sixers uniform. I feel for both sides here and I get the frustration in as much as I’m able as a third party observer with no skin in this game. I get both sides and believe there’s a conflict of goals here. With the exception of proving he’s healthy and can play, Bynum has little-to-no incentive to return this season and risk further injury prior to entering an off-season without a contract. As I mentioned above, Philadelphia’s in a terrible position. Gone are Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a future first round pick. In return is nothing but stress and frustration. And throughout this past eight months, even in public comments you can feel the rising and falling emotions, the expectations, confusion and resentment. If this is what’s going on in public, you can fairly easily assume what’s going on behind closed doors—my guess would be the Sixers have at least had discussions around the “injury in September” (Aron, 3/4/13), the potential to get a recoup lost expenses, the bowling incident, the pre-trade MRIs, etc. I don’t see any of the topics coming out of spite (even if it has possibly become personal on some level), but more out of a sense of desperation. You hear this most in DiLeo’s and Aron’s comments.
For the present, there are no winners. Just question marks and an unknown, fearful future for Andrew Bynum, Doug Collins, Tom DiLeo, Jrue Holiday, Michael Curry, Adam Aron and the Philadelphia faithful.
April 29, 2012Posted by on
It didn’t take long for the big red balloon of optimism to pop over the city of Chicago and rain down tears in the shapes of dripping red-hued question marks. All the finger pointing in the world (at Thibodeau, at the shortened season, at Derrick’s delicate 2012 body) won’t put Derrick’s ACL back together again, so let’s march on for a quick review of Saturday’s agonies and ecstasies:
Philly at Chicago, game one: The Bulls were their controlled, dominant selves with Rip Hamilton flashing and dashing off baseline screens and running Philly defenders ragged like it was 2004 all over again. If the Bulls, sans Rose, can somehow continue to score close to 100 points, this series won’t last long. They know how to behave with C.J. Watson at the helm and will continue to execute Thibodeau’s air tight game plans, but can Doug Collins’s squad find a way to step up their defense and put points on the board against a stubborn Bulls team? I don’t know, but I’m guessing Lavoy Allen is not the answer.
Random fact: Chicago was 22-0 when scoring 100 points or more this season.
New York at Miami, game one: 100 to 67? So much for the hype machine, Melo vs. Bron, Amar’e vs. Bosh, Shumpert vs. Wade (?) and New York’s three-point bombing bench. This was supposed to be the matchup we were all slobbering over, but instead game one had that dreamlike falling feeling, but we never woke up; or at least the Knicks didn’t wake up. Since no one really knows who the Knicks are (Knicks included), it’s impossible to imagine what we’ll get in the next three to six games, but my buddy Bug made a great, although mostly unrelated, point: Miami with Tyson Chandler instead of Chris Bosh would be a nightmare.
Random fact: Miami finished the regular season 18-0 when shooting over 50% as a team. Translation: LeBron and Dwyane: Don’t give into temptation, avoid the three.
Tragic ending: To Iman Shumpert’s season. Like Rose an hour or so before, the rookie who’d been somewhat prematurely anointed as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders (already?) tore his ACL as well.
Orlando at Indiana, game one: Here’s another one I caught on the highlight reel. The stories of this game: Danny Granger wet the bed, Roy Hibbert blocked nine shots (life’s a lot simpler when you get Big Baby instead of Dwight Howard) and Stan Van Gundy continues to build support in the ongoing Dwight vs. Stan feud.
Random fact: The Magic is 10-1 all-time when winning game one of a series.
Dallas at OKC, game one: The legend of Kevin Durant continues to grow. He got a true shooter’s bounce to win the game for OKC and send the bench and hometown fans in euphoria. Even though some of the names and faces have changed and James Harden’s beard takes up a little more mass, it felt like carryover from last year’s Western Conference Finals—minus Dirk being perpetually en fuego.
Rejected!: OKC led the league in blocks per game and their 8.2bpg is the fifth most per-game total in league history. They tallied eleven blocks on Saturday.
Sunday’s games added more piss and vinegar to the mix (we see you, Rajon). I’ll be back here tomorrow with another recap. And in the meantime, leave us all to ponder if anyone plays with a Marc Gasolian zeal for the game. It’s like he took all that energy his brother has channeled into primordial roars and re-directed it to positivity and an acknowledgement that he’s paid to play basketball for a living.
December 7, 2011Posted by on
I can’t quite put a finger or a thumb on it, but I feel like this year’s Philadelphia 76ers are going to improve on last year’s 41-41 record and 7th seed in the playoffs. If I had big ol’, Elton Brand mitts, I bet I could get a better grasp on it, but as it stands, I just have a few ideas sketched out below. These ideas are subject to refutation by fans of the Pacers, Bucks, Knicks, Bobcats or anyone else who stands to gain from Philly failure.
Where to begin with the squad housed in the City of Brotherly Love, the home of the (Legendary) Roots Crew and formerly the greatest court in league history? Let’s start with Coach Doug Collins who’s played, coached and commentated on the league since 1973. I was aware of Doug’s reputation as somewhat of a fixer-upper of a coach, but didn’t realize how serious it was until I took a look at his career performance as a coach:
How great would it be to see Doug Collins host an NBA version of This Old House where he takes a poorly managed or neglected roster and walks us through the remodeling job? I’d watch for sure. Back to the straight dope…I’d be intentionally deceiving you if I didn’t recognize injuries and acquisitions played a role in Collins’s ability to turn a loser into a winner. The cynic might say he’s just savvy at accepting the right jobs at the right time (kind of like Red Auerbach trying to poo poo Phil Jackson’s rings) and that may be the case. But given his nearly 40 years of experience in the NBA and irrefutable successes, I would passionately disagree with those cynics.
Collins runs his team like a basketball communal. Eight players played between 21 and 37 minutes per night and six of those eight averaged double digit points with Brand leading the way at 15. Everyone contributed and did so at different positions which added to their versatility. If Evan Turner is able to develop his offensive skills and maturity and start at the two, they’ll have a pair of strong ball-handling, multi-dimensional wings to play alongside the most captivating player on the team and the primary reason I expect the Doug Collins magic to continue: Jrue Holiday: A 6’3” point guard who’s only 21, rebounds well for his position, started all 82 games last year, consistently funked up defenders with a compact spin move and has tremendous feel for the game. Part of me thinks it’s a shame that the majority of casual or local NBA fans live in the darkness when it comes to the ways of the Jrue. But then I think about it a little more and in a world where we’re saturated to the center of our beings with nonstop information to the point that we’re stressed out, anxious and distracted, I’m thankful for the truths that have yet to be mass-marketed, consumed, regurgitated and then demanded a trade…I’m thankful for Jrue Holiday.
With the natural blends of youth (Holiday, Turner, Lou Williams and maybe Thad Young and Spencer Hawes), experience (Andre Iguodala) and wisdom (Brand and Collins), and a core group that includes six to eight of their top producers from last year, Philly’s ready for organic growth and progression.