There's nothing more dangerous in the NBA than resting the hopes of an entire team on one man's shoulders.
When the Sixers acquired the league's second best center from the Los Angeles Lakers, championship contention suddenly fell within reach.
The big man was coming off the best season of his tumultuous career, posting averages of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per contest. The Sixers were coming off a postseason that saw them nearly push past the Boston Celtics and into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Yet something was missing on both sides.
Bynum was never given the unconditional green light in Los Angeles. He constantly took a backseat to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and his shortcomings as both a player and maturing man-child were under constant scrutiny.
Then you had the Sixers, a team who hadn't tasted the sweet reality of title contention since the days of Allen Iverson and struggled to find an identity under the versatile talents of Andre Iguodala.
But, after this trade, everything would change.
Bynum would continue on his path of superstardom, fully realize his potential and proceed to actualize it. Philadelphia would follow suit, joining the ranks of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Lakers themselves as championship contenders.
However, as quickly as this long overdue reassurance came, it went. Bynum started to develop problems in his knee. Again.
At 24, the center has not only had surgery on both of his knees, but was forced to undergo a non-invasive procedure this past summer that was supposed to provide some temporary relief.
Apparently, it didn't. Bynum has yet to play in a preseason game, and according to Tom Moore of PhillyBurbs.com, he continues to sit out of practice.
Bynum did not practice with right knee discomfort. DiLeo to talk to media.— Tom Moore (@tmoorepburbs) October 24, 2012
Though setbacks are often unavoidable, Bynum's is especially complex and disconcerting.
Centers—courtesy of the banging they do in the post—are susceptible to knee injures more than any other players in the league. After a report by Moore that revealed Bynum needed another two shots in knees, the concern surrounding his health is at an all-time high.
Bynum had two shots Monday in knees. 'If this team feels like we can't win without him, we're not going to win,' Collins said.— Tom Moore (@tmoorepburbs) October 24, 2012
Those concerns are sure to stem plenty of doubts moving forward.
Did the Sixers bite off more than they could chew with Bynum? Did they just trade away a franchise pillar in Iguodala for an injury-prone athlete who will never make the contributions he's expected to? And, most importantly, is Philadelphia's season over, even before it officially starts?
Though we're less than six months into the Bynum experiment, those are a series of legitimate questions.
Bynum was brought into redirect Philadelphia's fortunes, to shift the tide in the franchise's favor for a change. But here the team is, preparing for the start of the 2012-13 season, and Bynum is on the sidelines, his return to the court more uncertain than ever.
Because, as Sixers General Manager Tony DiLeo admits (via Moore), with each passing day that Bynum remains a bystander, the less likely it is that he will be ready for Philadelphia's regular season opener versus the Denver Nuggets. The closer that comes to being a reality, the more likely it is the big man's return is continuously delayed.
#Sixers Dileo: Every day Bynum misses makes it less likely he plays in Oct. 31 season opener.— Tom Moore (@tmoorepburbs) October 24, 2012
So yes, it's fair to question if the Sixers' season is already over. Their primary pillar is on the shelf and his return is as uncertain as Rajon Rondo's jump shot.
If he winds up missing extensive time, how is Philadelphia supposed to cope, how is the team supposed to stay in the playoff hunt? Surely the Sixers cannot remain relevant.
Except that they can.
Even without Bynum, the Sixers are a good team—a versatile unit capable causing matchup headaches.
Are they contenders? Absolutely not, but Bynum has to return some time and Philadelphia is equipped to handle his absence in the interim.
While I could tell you this is because the Sixers have posted a 6-1 preseason record without him or because you need to believe in their youthful core, I'd be lying if I said it doesn't go beyond that.
For the past two years, I've watched Philadelphia from afar. I've seen what this largely still intact group can do, saw what they were capable of when Iguodala wasn't on point. Most notably, I've watched their young guns—even the newest ones—evolve right before our very eyes.
Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young are all versatile athletes capable of making a two-way impact; each of them have shown glimpses of star potential. The impact of Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Jason Richardson remain underrated and even Nick Young has displayed a penchant for selflessness in Philadelphia that we have never seen before.
This is a good team—they just have to remember that.
In the age of super teams, there's no greater peril than building a championship cause around one player. Just look at where the Dallas Mavericks are at right now.
This is why the Sixers cannot panic; they cannot already deem a season that has yet to begin a lost cause. They can, however, combat the enemy that has become Bynum's health, weathering the storm that is their best player's durability.
They can overcome this latest setback of Bynum's and they can overcome the one Moore reveals will come months from now when he receives two more of the same shots.
Why? Because they're deep enough, diverse enough, balanced enough and young enough to put up a superstar-less fight.
We watched the Denver Nuggets navigate the minefield that is the Western Conference without an All-Star for the better part of two years, so why not the Sixers? Why not this team? Why can't they hold it together in the wide-open Eastern Conference?
Those are exactly the types of questions this team needs to ask themselves. After all, as head coach Doug Collins admits (via Moore), even when Bynum returns, there is no telling how long it will take for him to regain his form.
#Sixers Collins: 'I have no idea how long it will take (to get Bynun ready once he gets on court.'— Tom Moore (@tmoorepburbs) October 24, 2012
So now is not a time to doubt in the Sixers, or for them to doubt in their own, Bynum-less potential. Now is a time for them to decide what type of team they want to be.
Do they want to go as far as Bynum alone can take them or are they prepared to establish an identity outside of their superstar center? Is Jrue Holiday prepared to run this offense? Are Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Holiday ready to carry the scoring burden? Will Allen and Hawes step up defensively? Will this team stay the course and continue to fight for a playoff spot, with or without Bynum?
You see, it's not a question, or series of questions, of "can" they, it's one of "will" they.
The Sixers can survive without Bynum, but only if they believe they can. As Collins said, "If this team feels like we can't win without him, we're not going to win."
As such, the season ahead is only as lost as the Sixers make it to be.
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