Remember Andrew Bynum? The 7-foot tower of power that was supposed to make the 76ers a contending team this season in a weak(ish) Eastern conference?
Neither do I.
Wait – does he even play anymore? Has he gone and pulled a Greg Oden and flamed out for a team who looking to turn the corner with him as their centerpiece?
According to recent reports, it may certainly end up that way. Andy Jasner is reporting for NBA.com that Bynum underwent arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees yesterday, ending his seemingly never-ending rehab from therapeutic knee injections less than a year ago. In November, it was revealed that he further undermined his return to game action by significantly damaging the cartilage in his left knees while bowling (an intelligent activity to be participating in when rehabbing a knee injury to be sure). There is no current timetable for his recovery, and I can’t figure out who this hurts more – Bynum or the 76ers organization.
Let’s start with Bynum. Rewind the clock back to the Lakers’ run of two championships in three consecutive Finals appearances, from 2008 to 2010, and you would’ve seen Bynum at his devastating best: an athletic anchor in the middle who is a tenacious rebounder, an imposing defensive presence, and was a nice compliment in the pick-and-roll for any speedy guard. However, injuries can skew the bigger picture enough to raise serious doubts about this young man’s career. For every success story of players coming back from intensive knee procedures – Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant and (fingers crossed) Derrick Rose come to mind – there’s an equal number of Penny Hardaways and Brandon Roys to throw some uneasiness into the mix. I mentioned Oden before, and he’s the poster child for how far, and how rapidly, the mighty can fall, especially if you’re a big man in professional basketball.
What does this mean for the 76ers if Bynum can’t make a full recovery and a meaningful return to their squad? As coach Doug Collins knows from his truncated playing days, it can translate into playoff dreams being put on a franchise’s back-burner for an extended period of time. When the Dwight Howard deal came to fruition, it looked like the Sixers were finally getting the superstar in the middle that they needed to carve out their permanent place in the Eastern conference playoff picture. Unfortunately, not only did their piece of the four-team trade pie not get eaten upon arrival, but they’ve had to sit back and watch other teams indulge in the tasty treats they had to give up. Andre Iguodala has become an important cog in Denver’s impressive pedal-to-the-metal offense this season, and young center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double in Orlando, with just over twelve points and eleven boards a game. That kind of production, which Bynum would’ve ultimately gave them, has been sorely missed by Collins and his team this year.
Finally, there’s also the issue of Bynum’s expiring contract and the fact that he could become an unrestricted free agent this coming offseason. It’s definitely a catch-22 situation when looking at Philadelphia GM Tony DiLeo’s options: a big contract to a potentially damaged commodity could very well put the Sixers behind the eight ball, in terms of salary cap restrictions and luxury tax penalties, if they wanted to improve the team with other additions. That being said, can you run the risk of letting him go for nothing without knowing that there will be a suitable replacement on the market come the summertime? Only time will tell, but the 76ers organization may feel more pain in the short term than a wisdom teeth operation minus the anesthesia.
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