The supposed cornerstone turned nightmare has been just that for the Sixers.
Bynum has been nursing a bone bruise in his right knee since training camp's inception and his return not only isn't imminent, but has been pushed back more times than we would care to admit.
Unfortunately, though, these setbacks come in pairs. Or at least they do for Bynum.
Philadelphia's big man suffered yet another setback. No, not because of a lack of progression with his right knee—that would be too easy—but because of a reported (via ESPN.com) issue with his left knee. Bynum said:
I had a little bit of a setback. Just working through some issues with the right knee, I kind of have a mirror thing going on with the left knee. I don't know what's going on. The doctors are saying it's a weakened cartilage state, so we kind of wait, I guess. We can't do anything. I just have to wait for the cartilage to get strong.
To be clear, this isn't a joke.
Bynum appeared to have turned a corner last season with the Los Angeles Lakers when he averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game on his way to his first All-Star appearance.
More important than the per game averages, though, was the reality that the big man was readily available from game-to-game—he missed just six contests during the 2011-12 season.
Naturally, the Sixers pounced then when they had the opportunity to snag him by relinquishing Andre Iguodala. Who wouldn't want to acquire a star big man who was not only actualizing his potential but remaining healthy at the same time?
The answer is no one.
No team would pass on the opportunity to acquire, and subsequently commit nine-figures to a prolific center. Just like no one in Philadelphia could have predicted what is happening now.
Sure, Bynum had his problems with his knees in the past, but they were just that—in the past.
Not only had he missed just six games last season, but he did so in the midst of a lockout-truncated schedule. Only a durable big man would be able to survive the rigors of such a year, right?
Well, apparently not. Because instead of reaping the fruits of this offseason's trade, the Sixers are struggling to remain relevant without Bynum, as he continues to suffer more setbacks than there are seconds allowed for pregame rituals.
How are the Sixers supposed to commit enough money to support a small country to one man whose knees can't support him?
They can't, and they shouldn't. Not until Bynum can prove to Philadelphia that he's destined for the greatness the organization and its fanbase believed him to be.
When he first joined the Sixers, re-signing him became a formality.
Philadelphia had the ability to offer him more years and money than any other city, and he was captivated by the opportunity to become the cornerstone he was never given the opportunity to be in Los Angeles.
Now, however, such a contract is anything but a formality; the Sixers have an abundance of questions to ponder regarding whether or not Bynum is worth the risk. And if the team is being honest, right now he isn't.
Yes, at his best, Bynum is more than deserving of a max deal. But he's hardly ever at his best because he's rarely on the floor. He's never even set foot on the court for Philadelphia.
Which means the pressure is now on him to prove he is worth an obscene amount of money, not on Philadelphia to prove its willing to invest in him.
Quite frankly, the Sixers will have other options if Bynum goes bust.
They have more than $10 million in cap room to play with should Bynum not be retained. From there, the team can explore options like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith and Chris Kaman, and be a stronger team than they are now.
No, none of those contingency plans offer as high a ceiling as Bynum, but on the knees he himself is operating on, his ceiling may prove unreachable.
Or maybe not.
Maybe Bynum can return in time for the New Year and make a resolution to become the Eastern Conference's best center, like he was supposed to be in the first place.
Maybe he can put an increased focus on conditioning—something he hasn't done his entire career—and become the dominant force he was pegged to be.
Maybe he is destined for greatness after all.
But he has to prove it before signing on the dotted line. Which means he'll have to return with a chip on his shoulder this season, be prepared to live up to his lofty expectations immediately upon being cleared to play.
Otherwise, unless the Sixers are enticed by expensive disappointments, there won't be a dotted line for Bynum to sign on this summer.
All stats in this article are accurate as of 11/19/12.
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