The Philadelphia 76ers on Monday once again pushed back the expected return date of center Andrew Bynum, marking the third time in less than two months that an ETA on Philly's prized offseason acquisition has been scrapped as a result of persistent complications resulting from a bone bruise in his right knee.
Bynum was diagnosed with the bone bruise one day before the start of Philadelphia's preseason training camp, after he'd made an offseason trip to Germany to undergo Orthokine treatment aimed at stimulating the healing process in his arthritic knees, both of which have undergone injuries and surgical repair in the past. (The Sixers have made sure to note that the bone bruise and the treatment are unrelated.) The team said Bynum would sit for three weeks to rest and heal, and that he'd be back in the gym about a week before the team's Oct. 31 season opener. Two weeks later, he received another injection in his right knee, but he was still expected to be back for opening night; continued discomfort prevented his return to practice, and the day before the year's first game against the Denver Nuggets, Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said the team had no timetable for Bynum's return.
Now, there is a timetable ... it's unlikely to be one that will thrill Philly fans. The Sixers "continue to be cautious" with their new center, according to the team's Monday injury update, after a Nov. 5 checkup led Dr. David W. Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to recommend keeping the 25-year-old big man on the shelf for an additional three weeks from his prior Nov. 19 recommendation.
While the orthopedist did clear Bynum to "immediately resume low-impact exercise," that means he'll remain on ice until "approximately Dec. 10" and will need "an additional 1-4 weeks thereafter for conditioning, training and practice" before being fully ready for live action. Considering he'll have been sidelined for more than 2 1/2 months by that point, the latter end of that spectrum seems the better bet, meaning that Bynum's on-court debut for Philadelphia is unlikely to come before the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's. If he comes back on Jan. 1, 2013, he will have missed the Sixers' first 31 games.
"We know that Sixers fans are eager to see Andrew Bynum play and shine in a 76ers uniform," DiLeo said in the team's statement. "We also know that no one is more eager to see Andrew play for the Sixers than Andrew himself. He fully realizes the key contribution he can make to the team. Hopefully, that day is coming soon."
That's not the kind of "hope" that Philly's front office and fans figured Bynum would bring when they got him this summer as part of the four-team blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. After fielding backcourt- and wing-dominated teams for much of the past two decades, the Sixers viewed the import of Bynum — a legitimately dominant low-post presence who averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes of floor time for the Lakers last season — as a chance to change the construction and direction of their team, going from an outside-in offense to an inside-out attack led by one of the league's best back-to-the-basket scorers and banking on a bruising, paint-controlling personality on both ends to vault them from the lower reaches of the East's playoff picture up to the top tier of the conference.
It was a sound, reasonable move in theory that's unfortunately yet to pay dividends in practice, because Bynum hasn't been able to even suit up for practice, and it sounds like at this point we're banking on a month of running on an anti-gravity treadmill to make everything copacetic. In the meantime, the Sixers will soldier on without their new organizing principle ... which might be just fine by them, since they're doing quite well in that configuration, thank you very much.
Doug Collins' bunch was won four of its first six games to start the season, including three straight on the road, to build up some momentum heading into a five-game homestand that begins on Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Sixers' defense has remained snare-drum-tight, allowing the league's fifth-fewest points per 100 possessions thus far, and while they've posted the NBA's fifth-least-efficient offense so far, the squad looked significantly more effective in weekend wins over the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. Philly's strong start comes thanks in large part to sound play from fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday, who's playing about five more minutes per game than he averaged last year and shouldering the increased load admirably, posting across-the-board increases in shooting percentages, kicking in a career-best 18.2 points and 9.5 assists per game, and showing significant growth after signing a four-year contract extension at the start of the season.
With Holiday taking the scoring and orchestrating lead, forwards Thaddeus Young and Dorell Wright chipping in on the wing and Spencer Hawes making big contributions off the bench, Philly's found, if not something that looks too pretty, then at least something that works while they wait for the big guy to come back. That's good for them, because by the sounds of things, they're not going to be done waiting anytime soon.
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