The Philadelphia 76ers had themselves quite an offseason.
After seasons of being semi-close to breaking through, the only thing holding back the Sixers was the lack of a star.
Andre Iguodala never quite materialized into that star, although he was paid like one.
Enter one Andrew Bynum.
The second-best center in the NBA came to the City of Brotherly Love in exchange for Iguodala, who was off to Denver. Sure, there were other pieces involved in the four-team swap that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the meat of the trade for the 76ers finally brought them the big- name stud it sorely missed since the days of Allen Iverson.
"I was compared to Kareem and Shaq. I like that I am that good of a player to be compared to them," Bynum said at his introductory press conference in August. "I'm going to work hard to try to be the best. I'm looking forward to the pressure. Pressure makes diamonds."
It certainly does, I guess.
Bynum was brought in to move the Sixers to the next level.
After an improbable run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, the Sixers knew they weren't that good. A Derrick Rose ACL injury and even a Joakim Noah ankle tweak allowed the 76ers to get past the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls in the first round.
They took the Boston Celtics to a Game 7 in Boston, but the home-towners prevailed.
It would've been easy for the Sixers to stay pat, tinker a little and try to get back to that plateau. Instead, they went out and made one of the biggest splashes in the summer.
Now the onus falls on head coach Doug Collins.
He will have to deal with Bynum's oddities, occasional disciplinary snafus and even injuries. Bynum played his first full season last season, and, even though it was shortened by the work stoppage, it was progress.
It also took its toll.
Bynum underwent Orthokine treatment in Germany shortly after being introduced as the future star of the squad. (That's a strong term since Bynum is a free agent, but indicated already that he'd like to stay.)
This is the treatment Kobe Bryant and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez underwent in Germany. Both raved about it, Bynum gave it a try, but came up hobbled on the first day of training camp.
"It happened a few days ago," Bynum said at Sixers Media Day. "I was working out, and I just kind of told (our training staff) that I was feeling a little bit uncomfortable, and they told me to take the time to let the Orthokine do its work.
"I feel a lot better (than I did earlier in my career). The Orthokine is definitely working. There hasn't been swelling in my knees. Everybody that has this procedure goes through this, having to get their legs strong and get back out there on the court."
This team now belongs to great young nucleus of Bynum, Evan Turner, who came into his own a bit last season after he was the No. 2 pick in the 2010 Draft, and Jrue Holiday.
2011-12 Results: 35-31, third in Atlantic; Lost in East semifinals to Boston.
KEY ADDITIONS: C Andrew Bynum, G/F Jason Richardson, G/F Nick Young, G/F Dorell Wright, C Kwame Brown, F Arnett Moultrie, G Maalik Wayns.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Jrue Holiday SG- Jason Richardson SF- Evan Turner PF- Spencer Hawes C- Andrew Bynum
KEY RESERVES: F Thaddeus Young, G/F Nick Young, G/F Dorell Wright, C Kwame Brown, F Lavoy Allen
FRONTCOURT: This frontcourt underwent a huge makeover. Bynum is in, but gone are Iguodala and Elton Brand, a victim of the amnesty clause. Jason Richardson and Turner are both capable of playing the "2 or 3," so that shouldn't be an issue.
The power forward spot is a little dicey.
Spencer Hawes is the front-runner for the starting job. He's a natural center, but in the other forward spot, he might work out well. Hawes is an above- average shooter and passer for his size.
The best guess is Lavoy Allen, re-signed by the Sixers in the offseason, plays the meaningful minutes in the fourth quarter. His defense against Kevin Garnett in last seasons's playoffs was difference-making and he's got a nice touch from mid-range.
But it's all about Bynum. He missed essentially all of the preseason with the knee boo-boo. It'll take Collins, Bynum and the rest of the 76ers some time to jell with such a dominant big man.
BACKCOURT: Holiday, Tuner, Nick Young and Richardson all could be starting, although Collins indicated early in training camp that Holiday and Turner would be starters.
Holiday definitely will be a starter. Who he lines up with is still up for debate.
Turner is rough around the edges still on offense, but does a variety of things well. Young can score and is looking for a long-term contract somewhere. Richardson, who was acquired the same multi-team deal as Bynum, is perceived by some as a salary throw-in, but Richardson still knocks down threes and may have just enough left in the tank to contribute.
BENCH: The Sixers had the best bench in the NBA last season.
That is not the case this season, but it's still in the upper echelon.
Lou Williams is home with Atlanta Hawks and his 14.9 points per game went with him. He finished second to Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden in Sixth Man of the Year Award voting last season. His scoring will be missed, especially since he was the Sixers' best option down the stretch.
Thaddeus Young is still a valuable contributor. He finished ninth in Sixth Man voting, but got exposed a bit in the playoffs. Against smaller teams, Young can play the 4, but against bigger teams, he can not. Against those teams, Young can move to the 3 and be a nightmare to match up against.
The Young/Richardson loser for the starting job will provide a scoring spark off the bench. Dorell Wright can be counted on for his jump-shooting and Allen and Kwame Brown are great defensive bigs to spell Bynum.
Even local kid Maalik Wayns has dazzled in the preseason and will be the point guard off the bench.
COACHING: Collins is an elite coach in the NBA. He's a teacher and the agony and triumph show on his face. He has an interesting challenge ahead of him this season, ingratiating a true superstar to his lineup without sacrificing the great defensive energy the Sixers brought in seasons past.
Collins also has to trust Turner completely. That's been difficult for him in the last two seasons, but reality is, this franchise is led by Turner, Holiday and Bynum.
The 76ers picked up the option on Collins' contract through 2013-14. It was an easy call.
"Doug Collins has repeatedly proven that he is one of the best head coaches in the NBA and we consider ourselves very fortunate to have him here in Philadelphia," said Sixers managing owner Josh Harris.
OUTLOOK: You might not find a more polarizing team for prognosticators.
Some believe the Sixers are the East's No. 2 seed in waiting. Some see middle of the pack. Remember, the Atlantic Division is a tricky one with several similarly-skilled teams.
The Sixers will be relying on two enigmatic players to lead them in Bynum and Turner. Philadelphia needs Bynum to re-sign to make this whole thing worthwhile and build a franchise.
If you have to lean a direction for this team, lean up. They may not light the world on fire early in the season, but they'll come together by the end. Collins is too good and there is too much quality talent here.
The Sixers aren't close to challenging the Miami Heat in the East, but they should challenge for the Atlantic Division and host a first-round playoff series.