Andrew Bynum in August, before it all went wrong (Getty Images)
We’ve found that there are two distinct camps when it comes to regarding Philadelphia 76ers, um, roster member Andrew Bynum. One group completely understands that Bynum, an unrestricted free agent this summer that has worked through a history of leg issues, does not want to put together an early and perhaps disastrous return to the court this season, as he readies for what could be his last big contract.
On the other side of that coin is the group that doesn’t mind pointing out that Andrew Bynum is currently under contract to play basketball for the 76ers this season, while making nearly $16.9 million as he works his way through rehabilitation that Bynum scuttled by decided to go bowling last December. Both sides have their points – a Greg Oden-esque microfracture surgery could cost Andrew the 2013-14 season and millions of dollars, but it was Andrew himself that crashed his own rehab party with the bowling trip, and a long history of iffy (and, at times, dangerous) decisions damages his credibility as he moves forward.
The latest news from Bynum can actually be classified as “news,” which is a rare occurrence in a season that has too often been more of the same from the former All-Star. After a setback during last Friday’s practice, Bynum’s pained right knee hasn’t let up even after a week away from the practice court. And the big man was candid in his discussions about possibly sitting out the entire 2013-14 season. From CSNPhilly’s John Gonzalez and Dei Lynum:
Bynum said "I really don't know" when asked if he'll play this year. Knee is swollen from last Friday's practice #Sixerstalk
— John Gonzalez (@gonzoCSN) March 1, 2013
When asked if he's worried about perception that he doesn't want to play in pain, Bynum said "that's true, I don't want to play in pain" — John Gonzalez (@gonzoCSN) March 1, 2013
Bynum confirmed swelling in his right knee. Doesn't want to play in pain. This season running short on time. good health more important
— Dei Lynam (@dlynamCSN) March 1, 2013
The reaction, as it has been all year, was once again split down the middle on the message board that I first spied this news. Bynum’s either a punk for not playing through pain for a lottery team that he helped create, again, because of that bowling trip; or he’s a grown man making an understandable decision about his future.
What is certain is Philadelphia’s 2012-13 prospects. The team is 12 games under .500 and six games out of the final playoff berth in the East. The team did well to cash in its assets on that rarest of NBA commodities – the low post center that can score and defend – but the team has played about as well as can be expected considering Bynum and others’ injury woes.
It’s true that Philly was a win away from the conference finals last year, but they were also an eighth seed that needed injuries to two Chicago All-Stars, and a pairing with an older Boston Celtics squad in order to play those 13 postseason games. It’s not like they broke up a guaranteed winner, especially when you consider the knowledge, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe pointed out after coach Doug Collins’ recent rant, that the Sixers are working under a very smart coach with a very outmoded and anachronistic approach to finding good shots for his team.
Perhaps if he wasn’t as unique a person, he wouldn’t get as much flak. That aspect is nobody’s fault but our own, as we judge a man based on his hairstyle or clothing selections. Frankly, what I tend to judge Bynum by is his attempts at bowling while rehabbing (not a contact sport, but one that demanded quick stops and starts on a hardwood floor from a 7-1 guy that is supposed to be taking it easy), and his long history of terrible choices while either behind the wheel of a car, or after getting out of it. I don’t care what your hair looks like if you’re driving on the right side of the road. Literally and figuratively.
What’s yet to be determined is Bynum’s future with the team beyond July, and it will still remain a question mark until the summer – Andrew hasn’t given any indication as to his line of thinking, and neither the player nor team seem to be treating this as an untenable situation despite the season gone wrong. Bynum can make more with the 76ers than any other team, should Philadelphia decide to offer him a max deal, and it’s hard to see the team’s win-now front office and coaching staff (one in the same, in many ways) deciding to blow it up with $45 million already on the books for next year and no high end lottery pick coming down the pike.
Which means this summer, unfortunately, might be a lot like this season. Can’t say we’re looking forward to that.
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