By John N. Mitchell, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
PHILADELPHIA — At least 10 minutes before new 76ers center Andrew Bynum strode into the atrium of the National Constitution Center, the 1,500-plus fans gathered to welcome the player on whom the franchise now hangs its hopes had broken out into raucous chants of “Andrew Bynum!” and “Beat L.A.!”
After he waded through the crowd of painted faces, pom-poms, and Sixers cheerleaders to reach the dais, Bynum could not conceal his surprise at the midday downtown gathering.
Bynum, 24, was acquired by the Sixers from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of last week’s four-team mega-trade that moved Dwight Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles. At Wednesday’s news conference, he was joined by Sixers majority owner Josh Harris, CEO Adam Aron, team president Rod Thorn, and fellow new Sixer Jason Richardson.
He did not ignore the questions — “Will you re-sign with the Sixers? How are your knees?” — that many of the fans, wanting to see the team win its first championship since 1983, wanted answered.
Bynum will make about $16.5 million this season. In February, he can sign a $53 million-plus extension for three years. If he doesn’t do that, he can test free agency and the Sixers can offer him the longest (five years) and most lucrative ($102 million) contract. Under the collective bargaining agreement, other teams can’t offer more than four years and $80 million to $85 million.
Whether it was the overwhelming throng of fans or just the sheer joy at being anointed the new No. 1 player on the Sixers after playing third fiddle in Los Angeles to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, Bynum, directly answered the questions.
“To be honest, man, my first experience here has been so great that I’m leaning toward making this my home,” Bynum, wearing sweats and a Sixers T-shirt, said to one of many thunderous ovations. “I’m not a guy who wants to be all around and have a lot of teams under my belt. But that’s really the answer. I’m really looking forward to making this my home.”
Contacted Wednesday, Bynum’s agent, David Lee, did not want to discuss an extension or next season’s free-agent period.
“I’ll just say that I want the kid to be happy,” Lee said. “If the organization makes him happy, I’m sure Andrew will make the organization happy.”
Bynum started for the Western Conference all-stars in 2012 and had his best season as a pro, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and almost two blocked shots per game. His knees, both of which have undergone surgery, held up well as Bynum appeared in 60 of 66 possible games in the lockout-truncated 2011-12 season.
However, Bynum wants to ensure that they will be healthy. To that end, he will head to Germany, where Dr. Peter Wehling, the foremost authority in the field, will perform the nonsurgical procedure known as Regenokine injection therapy. The treatment consists of six injections of his blood, with the goal of warding off the development of osteoarthritis in the knees. No recovery period is required, so Bynum will not miss any time in training camp, which begins Oct. 2.
“As of right now, my knees feel good,” Bynum said. “I know everybody’s anxious about (the procedure in) Germany, so I’ll discuss that. I talked to Kobe (Bryant). He had the procedure done. Everything was fine. It’s just a procedure that reduces inflammation. For the most part, a lot of athletes have tried it and have said great things about it. So I’m going to go over there and get that done so I can be in the best shape for these fans out here.”
Bynum has had some well-publicized moments of petulance, most notably receiving a five-game suspension for nailing then-Dallas guard J.J. Barea with an elbow in a playoff game. However, Sixers coach Doug Collins — and apparently all the fans who gave Bynum a rousing welcome on Wednesday — are willing to look beyond that.
“Sometimes we forget that he was drafted at 18 and went across the country to play in the spotlight of Los Angeles, that he’s just 24 years old,” Collins said. “We’re happy to add Andrew, who makes us a better team. I know that he’s a double-double every night, and on top of that he’s a good guy. We’re all happy today.”