Andrew Bynum’s return to health is being hamstrung by the 76ers’ broken anti-gravity treadmill

In order to make it to the .500 mark and give itself a chance to grab the last playoff spot in the East, the 17-24 Philadelphia 76ers will have to reverse that record in the second half of a season that starts Tuesday night in Milwaukee. That would be quite the feat, even if they would have the services of a potential All-Star in Jrue Holiday working them toward that sort of turnaround in the final 41. What they’d really like is the services of star center Andrew Bynum, who has been slowly working his way back through various knee ailments and hasn’t played a minute of the 76ers rather impressive (despite the record) season.

Bynum contends he’d like to return around mid-February’s All-Star break, but can the Sixers hold out that long? More importantly, can the incredibly expensive rehabilitation equipment the 76ers bought for Bynum hold out until then? Bob Cooney at the Philadelphia Daily News reports on the latter:

To try and quicken his return, the organization invested in a state-of-the-art anti-gravity treadmill that will alleviate up to 80 percent of the person’s body weight. The estimated cost of that piece of equipment has been guessed to be close to $60,000. Now as Bynum is working towards a return that he predicts could come around the All-Star break (mid-February), the new machine is breaking down.

Someone in the Sixers’ financial offices can’t be happy. But a return of Bynum will certainly make everyone in the organization a little more joyful, and the mammoth center said before Monday’s Sixers-San Antonio game that he thinks he’s still on target for that mid-February debut.

Nobody lend anything — not a phone or a pad or a pocket watch — to Andrew Bynum. It will break. It will be out, indefinitely. Here’s Andrew’s take on the situation:

“It’s going pretty good. I shot around at shootaround (Monday morning) with the guys so I’m getting a bit better on the court. If the treadmill would stop breaking down I would be able to do a little bit more, but I’m going well. It’s like every 3 days or so it needs service, so I don’t know. I’ve been involved a little bit in practice just shooting around with the guys and stuff like that. My knees feel good and I’m not feeling any pain so this is all good and I just want to keep it going.”

Bad breaks aside, this looks like quite the machine. But even “quite the machine” would have a tough time sustaining the mass and force that comes from a 7-foot guy that is probably pushing 300 pounds as he works his way back to his 285 pound playing weight. Reduce 80 percent of that body weight, pal.

Of more pressing concerns than Bynum pressing down on a machine crying out for mercy is the team’s road to the postseason. If Andrew decides to return to action following the All-Star break, against Minnesota on Feb. 20, he will be given an extra (and likely needed) 31 days off. The Sixers, given the benefit of long layoffs later this week and surrounding the All-Star game, only play 10 games between now and then. Six are against playoff teams, and two of those games come against the Milwaukee Bucks – Philly’s probable rival for that final seed, a team that has gone 5-2 since Scott Skiles up and quit the band.

The Bucks won the teams’ first meeting handily back in November, so the Bucks could gain some major ground with two wins against Philly while earning a tie-breaker along the way. It’s not unreasonable to expect the Sixers to just split those final 10 games before the break, considering that this would actually improve the team’s winning percentage, while losing twice to the Bucks. This would leave the team at 22-29, needing at least 20 wins over its next 31 games to make the playoffs because the team would have to eclipse Milwaukee’s record (Boston, we’re assuming, gets its act together as the season moves along).

Another option?

Bynum, who hasn’t played a game since last May, returns in a relatively anonymous home game against the smallish Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 9. The team monitors his minutes in games against Charlotte, the Clippers and Milwaukee before letting Bynum have six days off over the break. This would mean the team would also have to hope Bynum, notoriously quick to head as far away from basketball as he can (even if his retreats have basketball goals in them) during breaks in action, actually takes it easy over the All-Star break. Maybe even, in a year where the 76ers may pay him over $16 million for 34 games at most (provided he returns early against Charlotte), stays in Philly to continue to rehab.

All of this is pushing it. Bynum’s scarred knees have never been healthy, he needs all the rehab time he can get, there’s no way Bynum is going to report for rehab duty over the All-Star break, and it’s a push even with Bynum around at 24 minutes a game over those 34 games for Philadelphia to make the playoffs.

I’m just counting down the Sixers’ final options. Think of it as their magic number, in a way, before they’re eliminated from contention.

Oh, what teams will do for the love of a center with skills …