by Doobie Okon | @doobieSLAM

Were we simply on this path all along? Has it really been that Andrew Bynum and Philadelphia were on a collision course for seven years until joining forces as a footnote in a mega-deal?

The parallels are there.

From 2005-2011, the potential of Bynum—which at times jumped off the screen at you in flashes of greatness—also gave way to disappointment on many fronts. Tons of issues—injuries, “not in shape,” attitude, lack of defensive effort, etc.—led to mediocre numbers for a guy with his size and talent. Granted, he did win two Championships with L.A., but questions of his wasted potential never stopped. In fact, they reached their height after the ‘10-11 season when Bynum posted 11.3 points in only 54 games and exited the Playoffs in absolute disgrace.

Meanwhile, since 2005, the Sixers have also been dealing with their respective form of mediocrity. That is, the wretched middle of the pack in the NBA. It’s the worst place to be in this League, especially with no superstar. The Sixers were already on their way down, and once Allen Iverson finally left in 2006, the future looked pretty bleak and rightfully so. The best Philly fans could hope for was a .500 record and a first-round exit, which happened three times from 2006-2011.

All of a sudden, a lockout. A frenzy. A circus. A settlement. A new CBA. Christmas day—a 66-game season starts. And just like that, something changed dramatically for both the 76ers and Bynum.

New ownership—led by Josh Harris and CEO Adam Aron—promised changes to the proud Sixers organization which had suffered greatly in ticket sales the past few years. It worked. The fans started coming back, and the Sixers responded by jumping out of the gate to a 20-9 record, eventually finishing with a 35-31 mark and taking the Celtics to a seventh game in the second round.

Their defense was the story though, as Doug Collins had his players hounding the ball every night. They finished with the third-lowest points surrendered (89.4) in the League, and used their stifling D to overcome a shaky offense that fleeted as the season wore along. Without any kind of superstar to lead the way, it was an impressive year, a breakout year you could say for the entire franchise. But something was still missing.

So, over in L.A., how did Andrew Bynum’s year go? Well, there really isn’t that much to say here other than: 44 to 13. That’s right, Bynum has jumped 31 spots in the Top 50 rankings this year, which is incredible when you think about it. Major props to a guy like Kyrie Irving, who stamped his name at No. 17 after only a year in the League. But this is different with Bynum. We’d seen him for six years. We knew what he was about. We’d heard about the “potential” season after season after season. And now, all of a sudden, he appears right outside the top 10?

What does that tell you? That a guy who had elite talent for seven seasons finally figured out how to be an elite player. That a 7-foot monster finally figured how to stay healthy and use his whole body on both sides of the floor to dominate pretty much everyone. That Andrew Bynum has arrived.

The stats speak for themselves as he shattered most of his career numbers—18.7 points, 11.8 boards, 35.7 minutes and 37 double-doubles in 60 games. Even the six missed games are misleading, as he served a four-game suspension to begin the season and also missed the last game of the year to rest up for the Playoffs.

But it wasn’t just the box scores that stood out as much as Bynum’s sheer presence. Whenever I watched the Lakers this year—teams were scared to go at him and afraid to defend him. He was such a force in the middle at both ends that it was only natural for his numbers to jump so much.

The best and worst part about Bynum’s breakout year? That’s right, they’re the same thing—that Bynum was a third option. To put up those kinds of numbers as the guy behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol showed us that his potential still hasn’t been met yet. It was like saying, “Wow, can you imagine if he got the ball in his hands on every possession?” but then realizing, “Well, he’ll probably never get that chance on the Lakers.” Bynum broke out, but something was missing for him too.

Then, the basketball gods smiled down. The timing was right. The Sixers ownership was new and aggressive. L.A. wanted Dwight over Bynum. Other teams wanted in on a potential mega-trade. The opportunity was there for Philly to leech onto the deal and snag the second-best center in the League. And they did.

And just like that, the window has been blasted wide open for the Philadelphia 76ers. Just like that, mediocrity stands in the rear-view, with a 7-foot mammoth driving the runaway vehicle.

While Howard certainly has the edge over Bynum for best center in the League, the gap is not so wide anymore. The fact that people are acknowledging that Bynum’s moving up to Dwight’s level is a testament to Andrew’s season and what he can do a member of the 76ers.

In Philly, he will be the option. Collins will have the ball in Bynum’s hands on almost every possession, and the Sixers should finally have a resemblance of a half-court offense—something that’s been missing for ages. With an up-and-coming point guard in Jrue Holiday, the sky is truly the limit for Bynum who could most definitely put up a season of around 25 points and 12 board a night. Keep in mind—he’s also now going up against the East, where he is far and away the best center since Dwight’s now in La La land.

What’s most important about Bynum being on the Sixers, though? He was made for Philadelphia. He was born in Plainsboro, NJ, an hour outside Philly, and never really felt comfortable out in Cali. The trade truly worked out for both L.A. and Philly in that Howard’s goofy Superman personality fits L.A.’s culture whereas Bynum’s much more laid-back approach will work wonders for him in Philly as long as the effort on the court doesn’t drag.

Nobody in Philly wants to see a guy in a bow-tie and dorky glasses, especially after a loss. When Bynum showed up at the press conference in Philly after the trade, it was clear that his attitude fit the blue-collar feel of the city much more than a guy like Dwight Howard would. And as Bynum commented that he was looking forward to making Philly his long-term home, something just felt right.

In getting Andrew Bynum, the Sixers have made their most important move since drafting Allen Iverson 16 years ago. No question. They got that all-important, elusive superstar. Finally.

Are there questions? Sure. Always. Everyone’s worried about the knees, but just look at it like this. Kobe got the same experimental surgery and it’s helped him and he’s 34. So at the very least, the surgery’s not going to hurt Bynum, and following such a healthy season last year, I don’t think there’s reason for it to be such a huge concern.

There are questions regarding that laid-back attitude. That it reverberates on the court sometimes resulting in bad body language and a lack of effort. That he’s immature (see JJ Barea). That he parties too much. That he’s incapable of putting a franchise on his back.

For a guy like Bynum, who is still trying to figure what his legacy in this League will be, there will always be questions until he cements himself somewhere. Will Philadelphia be just a short stop along the road, or was this his destined city all along? In a way, it seems like Philly and Bynum needed each other, and now we’re about to see the payoff.

Either way, it bears repeating: 44 to 13. Respect.

Where should Andrew Bynum rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3
27Paul PierceCelticsSF5
26Andre IguodalaNuggetsSG5
25Rudy GayGrizzliesSF4
24Josh SmithHawksPF7
23Derrick RoseBullsPG8
22Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
21Steve NashLakersPG7
20James HardenThunderSG3
19Pau GasolLakersPF6
18Chris BoshHeatPF5
17Kyrie IrvingCavsPG6
16LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF4
15Tony ParkerSpursPG5
14Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF3
13Andrew BynumSixersC2

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.