COMMENTARY | It's at about this time every year when fans of NBA teams on the playoff bubble have to decide whether to root, root, root for the home team to go on a winning streak and get in, or subtly pray under their breath that they keep losing and stay out.
Making the playoffs as an eight seed means the disappointment of an already mediocre season continues for at least four more games, two of them in front of the home crowd. It means more money and time invested by fans in a team that typically makes its playoff exit almost as fast as the franchise gets next year's season-ticket package commercials aired.
Missing the playoffs means fans can turn their focus to the NBA Draft and which player would be the best fit for their team depending on when the ping-pong ball with their logo on it gets sucked out of the machine. And, of course, fans can start Twitter trends about what lucky charm their owner should take to the NBA Draft Lottery to further enhance the odds of snagging the number one pick.
If the swirling rumors are true that the 7-foot-1 center might actually play in games down the stretch - of course, these are only rumors because he keeps avoiding the media and nobody on the team seems to know the real answer - it gives the Sixers a significantly improved chance of being one of those bubble teams that sneaks into the postseason.
Fans need only look at recent games to realize what the Sixers lack more than anything else is a big-time presence in the middle. Spencer Hawes is a career backup at best, and an inconsistent one at that, as proven in his one- and two-rebound performances against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, respectively, followed by a 15-rebound effort against the Chicago Bulls. Hawes also tends to favor a lower-percentage 15-foot jump shot over a higher-percentage shot from inside the paint. If Bynum returns, he gives the Sixers a much, much stronger presence inside the lane on both ends of the floor that should equate to more wins and a possible eighth, or maybe even higher seed in the playoffs.
On the flip side, if Bynum remains focused on his hairstyle, his bowling scores, and his hide-and-seek skills instead of getting healthy and in shape to return, all indications are the Sixers have no chance of making the playoffs. In fact, given the team's recent performances one could make the argument that they might struggle to win five more games.
If the Sixers collapse down the stretch and don't make the playoffs, not only will they be in the lottery, but could be poised to have several more ping-pong balls than they would if the season ended today.
The other reason to hope that Bynum doesn't return is because, if he doesn't, then there's no way the franchise would sign him to a long-term deal. It also means that most likely no other team would either. In an ideal world, the Sixers could then sign him to a shorter, more cap-friendly contract and hope they look back at it as a "steal." Right now, the trade last summer to get Bynum might go down as one of the worst in Philadelphia sports history.
Head coach Doug Collins admitted during his "don't blame me" press conference the other night following the loss to Orlando that he wasn't exactly sure where Bynum spends his time during games. I think most fans would agree that for the rest of the season, for the betterment of the franchise's future, it might be best if it stays that way.
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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