I am firmly in the camp of people who believed that Andrew Bynum certainly had the potential to be a great center. Though his career has been constantly marred by injuries and controversy, there were always enough flashes of brilliance mixed in to make people like me believe he was worth hanging on to. Even as a raw youngster, his low post game was more polished than the man who replaced him in the Los Angeles Lakers. While Dwight Howard may be the more dominant defensive player, Bynum had also given indications that he could be a force protecting the rim. But, barring some sort of incredible turnaround, looking back on the career of the Philadelphia 76ers center, one can’t help but feel that the main theme will be that of a lack of fulfillment.
The injuries are not directly his fault, obviously, but like many other bigs before him, Bynum’s body has given him away too often. The Sixers must feel a profound sense of bad luck that he hadn’t previously participated in Chris Paul‘s annual charity bowling tournament. Then they might not have pulled the trigger on his trade and found themselves burdened with a 25-year-old player, on a $16.5 million salary for this year, who might never play again. All jokes aside, Bynum’s knees are on the fritz again thanks to a prior condition being worsened by a bowling accident, as has been much publicized recently. Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo announced Sunday that he is out indefinitely, which almost certainly rules out the Dec. 10 return-to-practice date that the team had set for the seven-footer.
Bynum has bone bruises in both knees and is operating in what doctors branded a “weakened cartilage state.” What you can take from that is that Bynum has horrible knees and that this is an issue that will probably plague him for whatever is left of his career. The fact that the most recent setback occurred as a result of bowling seems tragically fitting for a man whose entire time in the NBA could easily be characterized as bizarre. There were the growing pains, the time he got called out by Kobe Bryant in that infamous “I want to be traded” rant, the clothesline on J.J. Barea in the 2011 playoffs, the parking in a disabled spot fiasco. The Lakers were incredibly patient with Bynum when all things are considered, but when they had the chance to finally land Howard, Bynum was shipped out of town. The team that put everything into his career gave up on him.
It’s a sad setting for the kid who was once the post-Kobe future of the most famous team in basketball. He finally had a team where he was “the guy” and appeared to be getting his head straight after years of turmoil in L.A. But the same knees that terrified Laker fans all those years have come back to torture the Sixers. Surgery is an option that would put Bynum out for a year, and it’s an option he doesn’t seem too keen on, stating: “There’s no surgical procedures that will really help or are safe to do at the moment. I’ve just got to bide my time.”
Time is an issue for both Bynum and the Sixers, however, as he is in the final year of his contract. The Sixers want him to be there long-term, but there comes a point where you have to cut your losses and it seems that the team is already considering a future that doesn’t include the 2012 All-Star. DiLeo himself acknowledged as much: “We hope he will back; we’re anticipating he will be back at some point. We have plans for the future if he is not back with us but we want to plan on him being here long-term.”
It would be nice to see it all work out for both parties. Bynum has a very high ceiling and the Sixers are a good young team in need of a centerpiece. Yet one can’t help but feel that the problems that have bothered Bynum throughout his career are just too much for any team to bear. Even the Houston Rockets had to give up on Yao Ming eventually and he was a proven entity with zero character concerns. The same can’t be said for Andrew Bynum and that makes you wonder just how much longer he will be able to call himself an NBA player.