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Andrew Bynum Could Cost Sixers Wins Next Season

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COMMENTARY | It's not a news flash that the Philadelphia 76ers have suffered a couple key injuries and at this point are basically just playing out what has become a maddening season for everyone involved. From the owner tweeting his apologies to the fan screaming his objections from the last row in the arena, the frustration level is at an all-time high in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Boston Celtics have also suffered key injuries, most notably to All-Star guard Rajon Rondo, who in January was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

When the teams faced each other Tuesday night, on paper it appeared to be a perfect matchup. Well, there's a reason games aren't played on paper.

Boston won 109-101 in a game that looked on the scoreboard closer than it actually was on the court. The glaring difference between these two teams? Veteran leadership.

Without Rondo, the Celtics still have Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the floor, each with championship rings and a combined 31 years in the league. The Celtics are 12-4 without Rondo and currently are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, poised to make the playoffs and, realistic or not, another run at a championship.

When the Sixers lost Jason Richardson last month, the team was left with Jrue Holiday, Thad Young, and Evan Turner, who combined have been in the league for 10 years. They wear zero championship rings. The Sixers have lost 10 of their last 11 games and sit in 10th place, seven-and-a-half games out of a playoff position, and realistically can start booking tee times for as early as late April.

There is leadership potential on this team, as coach Doug Collins admitted when asked a couple weeks ago. He didn't name names, but most likely he was talking about Holiday, Young or Turner. And whether or not any of the three have the potential or even want to be leaders, right now they are faced with the reality of not knowing if the person who was supposed to lead this team, at least on the court, Andrew Bynum, is ever going to don a red, white and blue uniform. For the record, the 7-foot former All-Star has two championship rings.

Bynum has practiced once, talked about wanting to play this season, admitted he's accepted the fact he might not, and seems to be hoping for a lab experiment - during a recent interview he referenced scientists successfully growing cartilage in a Petri dish - to get him back on the court.

All that aside, unlike other injured superstars, Bynum has shown no signs of being a leader on this team. Instead of getting treatments before games, he does during them. It's as if it is an inconvenience to come to the games early like his teammates, and as he would if he was actually playing. Reportedly, he's always the first person out of the building after the game.

Even if Bynum is healthy enough to return to the lineup this season or next, the Sixers must decide if they are going to risk re-signing him. There are a lot of options. Nobody knows the answers.

And so the players wait. … And wait. … And wonder what their roles will be next season in a locker room that could consist of players mostly having single-digit experience (and zero rings) in terms of years in the league. Or Bynum could return, and if he becomes the leader many hoped and expected him to be, the youngsters can willingly resume their current roles of "just" important and necessary contributors, enabling them to slowly mature into leaders rather than being thrust into a veteran's position.

For now, forget about the "what ifs" in terms of wins had Bynum played at all this season. Instead, think about the fact that if Bynum isn't on the team next year for any reason, an entire season has gone by without a clear leader of this team stepping forward.

And now think about how many games that might cost the Sixers early next year. That should concern everyone, especially that fan sitting in the rafters.

Jon Buzby is an award-winning sportswriter from Delaware and has followed the Sixers since 1976. He contributes regularly to multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.

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