76ers will go as far in East as Bynum takes them

Associated Press Modified: October 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm •  Published: October 23, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Working together for NBC at the Olympics, 76ers coach Doug Collins and Boston coach Doc Rivers caught up over dinner, talking hoops and sizing up the best big men in the NBA.

Little did Rivers know, Collins was keeping a secret — a 7-foot sized one.

"He said, 'Who do you struggle with?' I said, 'Bynum,'" Rivers said with a smile. "Doug almost choked on his soup. He knew the next day they were about to get him. It was pretty funny. I didn't appreciate it, but it was pretty funny."

After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference semifinals allowed Philadelphia to shed a decade of mediocre basketball, the organization took a giant step in the summer, acquiring center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers, easily their most talented man in the middle since Moses Malone — and the best one in the East.

All of those accolades come with one crucial caveat. Bynum, who turns 25 on Saturday, has to avoid further issues with his knees and play at least 70-75 games if the Sixers are going to build off last year's run and compete for the Atlantic Division title.

If Bynum's knees can withstand the rigors of a full season, look out, the Sixers could be every bit as good as advertised. If he's sidelined for extended periods of time, though, the Sixers could return to that 40-win, fight-for-the-eighth-seed malaise of the last several seasons.

Bynum has been held out of all basketball activity this preseason as a precaution after receiving knee treatment in Germany. Bynum hopes to practice for the first time on Wednesday and the Sixers remain optimistic the All-Star will be ready for the Oct. 31 opener against former Sixers guard Andre Iguodala and Denver.

"I know how important the home opener is and I know all that kind of stuff," Collins said. "But we're not going to do anything silly and have another setback to where now it costs you during the season."

The Sixers got Bynum in a whopper of a four-team deal that sent Iguodala, their All-Star and Olympian, to the Nuggets, and saw Dwight Howard traded to the Lakers. Bynum is a New Jersey native and the Sixers feted him with a lavish homecoming in August that included a public press conference in Philadelphia's historic district. The setting for the bash was fitting because their last NBA title in 1983 seems like ancient history.

Bynum is coming off his best NBA season after averaging career highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while making his first All-Star team, starting for the West. He was the NBA's third-leading rebounder and 20th-leading scorer, while also ranking sixth in the league with 1.93 blocked shots per game.

"He's feared," forward Evan Turner said. "He's a monster."