Philadelphia, PA – Finally, we are starting to see some realities in this Andrew Bynum situation.
None of them look good if you're a Philadelphia 76ers fan.
The first is that Bynum does not appear likely to play a minute this season.
Bynum announced on Friday that he had swelling in his right knee after a 5- on-5 scrimmage a week earlier. The fact that after one week there was still swelling is very bad news.
"I'm not really concerned, more frustrating," Bynum said.
With a little over a month to go in the regular season, swelling at this point on his right knee is troubling. For those keeping score, the right knee is the one Bynum originally injured in a workout, not the one affectionately known as the "bowling knee."
Bynum, just one week prior, was completely confident he'd play this season.
"Now, it's getting a little late," he said. "I really don't know. I still think I can play, but like I said, the season is getting short."
From a strictly basketball perspective, the Bynum trade has been an epic disaster. The Sixers sent Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic away to acquire Bynum.
Iguodala is an above-average player, who was just paid too handsomely. Harkless is a nice prospect and Vucevic has emerged as one of the best young centers in the league. He's seventh in the NBA in rebounding and third in double-doubles.
"There was so much this season we were looking forward to," said head coach Doug Collins in his now famous rant after an ugly home loss to the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. "We made a huge deal and we have nobody playing as part of that deal. How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic and have nothing in return playing? That's tough to overcome, right? That's just the facts."
That is a valid point. Jason Richardson, also acquired in the Bynum deal, is gone for the season with a knee injury, but this team was built around Bynum and his interior presence.
Let's be clear, this Sixers team is not good. Bynum's absence is a huge part, but the rest of the squad, save for All-Star Jrue Holiday, the hard-working Thaddeus Young and the somewhat underachieving Evan Turner, are role players.
If Bynum was out there, Philly would certainly be better. He was second-team All-NBA last season and that kind of production can't be minimized, especially in the current NBA, which is short on dominant big men.
Clearly, Bynum has been missed on the floor. Through much of this disaster known as the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers campaign, Bynum has stuck it out on the bench, although he wasn't out there Tuesday for the embarrassing loss to the Magic.
"It's super hard to feel like a player when you're not able to do anything with the team, especially all year," said Bynum, who said he was getting treatment during the game and has missed home games this season. "I'm definitely a part of the organization and part of the team."
What's disconcerting in this Bynum situation is the disconnect, not just with his teammates, but with the city and front office.
Bynum blew off a media session on Tuesday, then didn't sit on the bench.
"Does he sit out there all the time? I don't know," Collins said when asked about it.
Collins doesn't know if he was there? He missed seeing the franchise guy, who generally wears his hair in an afro?
When Bynum has spoken to the media in the past, Collins has been asked immediately after and has sounded like he didn't know what Bynum was going to say, let alone what he actually said.
Shouldn't the head coach know the theme of these press gatherings?
Also in the past, Collins has hinted that Bynum has used his own doctors instead of the organization's. It's probably wise to have your own guy when your knees appear to be made of fiddle-faddle tied together when the connective strength of dental floss. But trusting in the team's personnel couldn't hurt and Bynum eventually listened to Sixers' medical people.
And medically, Bynum stated there's nothing that can be done, at least surgically.
"That's the problem," he said on Friday.
Then on Sunday, Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo confirmed Bynum may have to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair loose cartilage in the right knee.
What happened in 48 hours? We went from the player saying "there's nothing really out there," to the GM stating surgery is "certainly an option."
How did that happen? Why are the player and organization so far apart?
It's startling and scary that Bynum and DiLeo don't appear to be on the same page on this.
And Bynum has definitely not endeared himself to the city of Philadelphia. When Bynum arrived, crowds packed the National Constitution Center. There was genuine excitement, then ... poof ... all gone as he sits on the bench.
You can excuse a fan base that has seen terrible teams year in and year out get riled up when a 25-year-old star is sent your way. You can excuse the same fan base for turning on him when he doesn't play.
Injuries happen, but Philadelphia is not happy with Bynum. It's not that he's been sidelined all season, so much as how he's handled it.
First, Bynum said he was going to Los Angeles over the All-Star break for some vacation. Vacation from what? Rehabbing is hard and it's customary for players not selected for the game to get away, but Bynum's declaration didn't sit well. He's probably entitled to some down time, but did he need to say it?
Bynum is not overly concerned about what the Philly faithful feel about him. He was asked about satisfying people about playing at some point and responded: "I don't feel that at all. I feel like it's my life, I'm 25. I don't want to have no cartilage because that's really bad."
Then, Bynum was asked about the perception about him of not wanting to play in pain. "That's true, I don't want to play in pain." Bynum suited up in situations similar to this when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. "I played in L.A. with a bit of swelling, but it wasn't this bad." Fine, the swelling is worse, but isn't it fair to say he was playing for a lot more with the Lakers, than the lowly Sixers?
Bynum's stances are perfectly reasonable for a player to have. It's also perfectly reasonable for a Philadelphia fan base -- blue-collar and tough -- to not want this guy around.
And that leads us to the 7-foot center in the room, Bynum's looming free agency.
At the end of the season, Bynum becomes an unrestricted free agent. A player can get more money and an extra year from the team he was under contract with the season prior, meaning the Sixers can give Bynum more.
That brings us to our second reality: the Sixers should steer clear of Bynum.
That's an incredibly difficult decision, since, as Collins pointed out, the Sixers gave up a lot for him.
The NBA is a superstar-driven league and to have one somewhat under your control is like striking oil. A healthy Bynum makes the decision easy, throw the max at him and there's your cornerstone for years.
What they do next is critical. The Sixers have money to spend, both in the form of Bynum's contractual number ($16.9 million) and the amnestied Elton Brand ($16 million).
Bynum's knees will not improve. Sure, he could play when they feel a little better, but long-term, this is not a healthy scenario. If the Sixers passed on that basis alone, no one would have a big issue with it.
But the Sixers aren't luring any studs to Philadelphia. The nucleus is not bad, but marquee free agents won't be beating a path to South Philly to play with Holiday, Young and Turner. There just isn't enough talent to make the Sixers contenders for a long time.
Make no mistake, someone will offer Bynum a lot of money. Eric Gordon missed essentially all of last season with a knee issue and the Phoenix Suns offered the restricted free agent a truckload. The New Orleans Hornets were forced to match.
How many great centers are there in the NBA? Dwight Howard, a free agent himself, then who? Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets? He's a great pivot man without anything close to Bynum's credentials and he got max money, so someone will take a chance on Bynum.
It just can't be the Sixers. This season left such a bad taste in everyone's mouth, how can you bring him back? Best-case scenario is he plays three- quarters of every season and is able to go strong in the playoffs. Worst-case scenario is what Philly is enduring right now.
Bynum is injured. Everyone around him says he's working hard, but this is a nightmare. DiLeo still says "Plan A" is bringing Bynum back, but acknowledged on Sunday there is a "Plan B."
Plan B could revolve around Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap or Monta Ellis, and it's safer. Plan A is dicey and you run the risk of setting the franchise back ever further.
Say they sign Bynum and you get more of the same next season. Will this fan base ever forgive the team for doing this? Doubtful.
The Sixers made an improbable run during last season's playoffs and took the Boston Celtics to seven games in the second round. They beat the top-seeded Chicago Bulls because Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1. Otherwise, they would've gotten trounced.
Give the Sixers credit for trying to make a huge splash. It takes something to break up a team so close to the Eastern Conference finals, but the brass knew it was smoke and mirrors.
The Bynum trade didn't work. Now, unless they can make some kind of miracle pitch to get a Howard or another top-flight star, this team is back to rebuilding.
The plan was great and the future bright.
But reality, is reality.
- Magic Johnson's $1 million offer to LeBron James to participate in next year's NBA Dunk Contest is nice (money would go to charity), but it's ill- conceived. What does LeBron gain from doing it? It's the Dunk Contest and nothing needs to be gained. Frankly, as the flagship of the NBA, James should feel some sense of duty, but he hasn't and he won't. Publicly blackmailing the league's best is not wise. Magic is calling him out and if he participates, fine. But what if guys like Jeremy Evans, or Terrance Ross upstage him? Now, LeBron is humiliated and probably a little angry. Just not a wise move.
- Tony Parker's ankle injury isn't a death knell on the San Antonio Spurs championship hopes. He sits a month, is rested for the playoffs and the Spurs will still keep a top-two seed. They are three games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 1 seed in the west and have a lot of home games left.
- The New York Knicks need to iron out end-of-the-game rotations. Not having Amare Stoudemire out there, having Amare out there, Mike Woodson can't get it right.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are inching up to that eighth spot. How exciting would Lakers/Spurs or Lakers/Thunder be in the first round?
- Movie moment - I believe "Pulp Fiction" to be the greatest movie of all time. I saw it like seven times in the theater alone and re-watched Friday night in the hopes of finding some nugget I missed before, and I did. It's weird to think that the toaster going off with the Pop Tart wannabe is what prompted Butch to shoot Vincent. Who knows how that situation goes down otherwise (badly, obviously). And, I love that Marsellus Wallace was headed back to Butch's with two coffees and a box of donuts. Seemed like he was going to wait for Butch with Vincent and went and did something nice for his employee. Class.
- TV Moment - I will be glued to my television all week because announcing a new Pope is great theater. The white smoke, the black smoke, the intrigue, it's all wonderful. A new Pope doesn't happen much in a lifetime, and you don't have to be Catholic to appreciate good television.