In perhaps the NBA’s least-liked reunion of the season, Cleveland Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum will return to Philadelphia on Friday to play against the 76ers. This pairing will far outpace the eventual return to Los Angeles for former Lakers center Dwight Howard, because Howard is actually performing at an All-Star level in his early going with the Houston Rockets, so the spectacle won’t be nearly as sad as the one in Philly. On top of that, Los Angeles can’t possibly catch Philadelphia when it comes to public vitriol. Not with all those meetings to take, not after showing up fashionably late.
Bynum, who made the All-Star team in 2012 while a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, is not playing at an All-Star level. In fact, Bynum may not even play on Friday, as the big man has logged just 51 minutes in four games (22 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, six fouls but just three turnovers) with the Cavaliers, sitting out of the second night of a back to back last Saturday, while complaining about “sharp” knee pains all week. On Thursday, he even admitted to considering retirement, before Cleveland's (potential, assuming he plays enough games) two-year, $24 million offer came calling over the offseason.
Andrew Bynum in street clothes, should he decide to sit with his teammates on the bench, would be a familiar sight for Sixers fans, as the center failed to log a minute for the team that deal star swingman Andre Iguodala for him. As a result, Bynum expects to hear a familiar chorus. From Christopher Vito at the Delaware Daily Times:
“Just another game,” he said.
Bynum, who’s coming off the bench for the Cavaliers, has seen a gradual step-up in minutes as he progresses from the arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent in March.
“I think they’ll probably boo, but that’s their choice,” Bynum told Cleveland media. “It wasn’t my choice to get rid of me. I don’t feel bad at all (about last season). … If I was not hurt, I would’ve played. That’s really the end to that story.”
Except … it’s really not the end to that story.
If you’ll recall, Bynum re-injured his dodgy knees last season while bowling, before vaguely hinting throughout the year that a return was possible, but never fully committing to wanting to play while making nearly $19 million on the season. The Sixers missed the playoffs, parting ways with the coaching staff and front office along the way, prior to cobbling together a long term rebuilding project that had some wondering if Philadelphia could crack double-figure wins this year.
This is why many in Philadelphia, a city not known for being especially kind to people it doesn’t like (this isn’t limited to sports figures, as this massively NSFW YouTube clip proves), probably purchased tickets for this Friday night event thinking that it was going to be the highlight of a long, tortuous season.
It hasn’t turned out that way in Philly, though. The team still might finish with the worst record in the league before the 82-game term is over, but home wins over the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls have been more than impressive for this upstart crew, and the 3-2 Sixers will actually have a better record than Cleveland (expected by some to challenge for a playoff spot) by tip-off.
Not that any of this matters to Bynum. On the outside, at least. From Christopher Vito again:
Did you get a bum rap because of that?
“I don’t think so. If I could’ve played, I would’ve. And that’s where that’s at.”
Unfair how you’re treated by fans?
“I honestly don’t really care. I don’t know how they treat me. I don’t look … I was hurt. It is what it is. And I’m still hurt, but I’m trying.”
The problem with Bynum, who has this whole ambivalent thing down pat, is that you actually believe that he doesn’t really care what the 76ers fans think. That as long as he plays enough to justify the contract stipulations the Cavaliers set in place on his current deal, he can get back to parking in the handicap spot at the Dave & Buster’s. No bigs.
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Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal also reported that Bynum's goal for the season is merely "to be able to play without pain and discover the joy again," which sounds about right for someone who has been through what he's been through, from the embarrassing end to the 2011 season to the NBA's lockout to a tough year under Mike Brown to the struggles in Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Bynum went on to admit that he’s “a shell” of himself on the court during the meetings with media on Thursday, and that he has considered retirement because of the condition with his knees – which suffered a setback on Wednesday after he came back to the floor after a dunk in a loss to Milwaukee.
He also revealed that the new 76ers front office, one helmed by respected young executive Sam Hinkie, had absolutely no contact with Bynum once his contract lapsed at the beginning of last July.
Andrew Bynum should not expect the same radio silence on Friday night.
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