It's way too early for Philadelphia to deem the Andrew Bynum experiment a bust, yet we're past the point of cautious optimism and have officially entered the realm where overwhelming concern runs rampant.
Fresh off his first NBA All-Star appearance, Bynum was supposed to change the entire culture of the 76ers. He was supposed to give them an undeniable first option on the offensive end and transform the third best defensive team from 2011-12 into even more of an impenetrable force.
But that only happens—those expectations are only given a chance of actually occurring—if Bynum is on the court, developing a rapport with his teammates, becoming acclimated to being the primary pillar for the first time in his career.
This, of course, is exactly what Bynum hasn't done. He's been watching from the sidelines as his team battles through the preseason without him, a reality all parties involved hope is only temporary.
But when Bob Cooney of the Daily News reported that the 24-year-old center would be issued a Synvisc injection in his right knee, I heard a collective gasp from my living room in New York, which I can only assume originated from the streets of Philadelphia.
It is a Synvisc injection in the right knee for Bynum— Bob Cooney (@BobCooney76) October 15, 2012
It's understandable, of course. Bynum's short tenure with the Sixers has been anything but fruitful, or even predictable, so a sense of doubt becoming increasingly prevalent is not surprising. But, to an extent, these feelings have been suppressed.
Despite the countless setbacks, Bynum has already incurred. Plenty of hope still exists. There is still a dominate feeling that he can be the cornerstone that propels the Philadelphia franchise back to title contention, a state it hasn't experienced since the days of Allen Iverson and Larry Brown.
Yet that hope, that very optimism must be taken with a spoonful of truth and, dare I say, pessimism.
Until now, Bynum's situation has been downplayed. The magnitude of his absence has not, but the potential severity of his injury woes and the danger behind him being "The Man" has gone relatively unrealized.
What's there to realize? Plenty. Even after The Inquirer's John Mitchell reported that Bynum's knee injection is a completely routine procedure:
Turns out that the injections that Andrew Bynum will have in his knees in the coming days are the same injections he’s been having every year for the past “three or four years,” according to his agent, and there is no need to be worried.
“He’s been getting them for quite some time now,” agent David Lee, reached Sunday afternoon, said. “Look at it as being nothing more than, like, a WD-40 for his knees.”
Naturally, the "three or four years" acknowledgement caught my eye. Clearly, this procedure has become routine, is a borderline tradition for the big man. But what exactly does it do? Comparing it to the effects of WD-40 simply isn't enough.
The official website for Synvisc-One—the exact injection Bynum will receive—provided plenty of information as to what it does and why it should be used:
Synvisc-One® (hylan G-F 20) is a viscosupplement injection. Made from a natural substance that lubricates and cushions your joint, it can provide up to six months of osteoarthritis knee pain relief with just one injection.
Synvisc-One is a single injection. It’s a simple, in-office procedure that only takes a few minutes.
Synvisc-One can provide up to six months of osteoarthritis knee pain relief. Everyone responds differently, but in a medical study* patients experienced relief starting one month after the injection.
After the injection, you can resume normal day-to-day activities, but you should avoid any strenuous activities for about 48 hours.
That's an overwhelming, albeit necessary, load to take in.
This injection essentially pads Bynum's knee, the way cartilage and joint fluid does.
But here's the the thing: it's temporary, and takes up to one month to go into effect. Not only could it take 30 days for Bynum to move and bang down low the way he needs to, but this isn't even a permanent fix.
That's dangerous. Maybe not life and death dangerous, but perilous enough that Philadelphia should be worried. Big time.
And that's because the Sixers have an incredibly burdensome decision on their hands, one they have to make less than a year from now. Do they commit upwards of nine-figures to Bynum come July, or do they allow him to walk, meaning they relinquished Andre Iguodala for a season's worth of uncertainty?
Merely two months ago, such a decision didn't seem like much of a concern. Of course Philadelphia would hold onto Bynum—their future hangs in his balance.
Well, the latter half of that is still true, but recent events must be taken into account for the former.
Bynum, at the budding age of 24, should not be going for his fourth or fifth knee injection, no matter how "routine" it may be.
After seven years in the league, he should not have appeared in more than 65 games just once.
This procedure should not be necessary after he already underwent a non-invasive procedure during the offseason.
As eye-popping as Bynum's averages of 18.7 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game last season may be, there's no escaping that he's already had numerous procedures—including actual surgeries—on both of his knees.
There's a reason Los Angeles felt more comfortable putting the future of the franchise in Howard's hands.
And there's a reason why it took the better part of a decade for Bynum to supposedly become the player he was destined to be.
Sure, his well-documented immaturity must shoulder some of the blame, but mostly, it's because of his knees. Those same knees that are expected to carry the weight of an entire franchise.
And yes, those same knees that seem to be "routinely" deteriorating right before our very eyes.