Is Andrew Bynum the Biggest Disappointment in the NBA?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

Feb 01, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum (33) prior to the game against the Sacramento Kings at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers defeated the Kings 89-80. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Just when we thought Andrew Bynum was ready to take up his mantle as the second-best big man in the NBA, he went and broke our hearts.

Or rather, his knees did.

One year removed from his first career All-Star selection, Bynum has yet to play a second of actual basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Disappointment doesn't do what's transpiring in Philly justification.

Bynum was supposed to be the foundation from which the Sixers were going build their future, the player who led them back toward prominence and the player that would instill the type of championship hopes Philly hadn't experienced since the days of Allen Iverson.

But he hasn't.

Instead, Bynum has left the Sixers wondering: Is he who they thought he was? Will he play this season?

They are wondering if they made one of the biggest mistakes ever?

Publicly, Bynum has vowed to return, a promise he seemed prepared to make good on after resuming basketball activities early in 2013.

Optimism has since been asphyxiated by reality though.

Bynum had hoped to play by the end of this month, but his left knee is still giving him issues, and he is now non-committal on when he'll return (via Jason Wolf of USA Today):

Bynum was asked Monday whether he was still planning to play in a game this month.

"I'm not sure," he said. "It's all going to depend on if we get a setback or not. Right now, I think things are going well. I'm losing weight and staying on the court for as long as I can."

But he also said the pain in his left knee "limits me from continuing to go."

Ambivalence is no longer just synonymous with Bynum, it's a state of existence.

More than halfway into the season, more questions are still being posed than answers given. 

Of those questions, none are more important than the one worth nearly nine figures: What is Philadelphia to do with Bynum after this season?

Upon his acquisition, re-signing the big man was a mere formality. Bynum was headed for a big pay day, and the Sixers could offer him more money than any other team.

It was a foregone conclusion that his stay in the City of Brotherly Love was going to be an extended one.

Then the season began, and Bynum went from a franchise savior to the biggest disappointment in the NBA.

You know that Dwight Howard will eventually return to form.

That Derrick Rose, even if it's not this season, will regain his explosiveness.

Rajon Rondo will return just as crafty.

But you don't know when Bynum will return, or what he'll do when he does.

Some understood the risks involved when the Sixers brought in the 25-year-old, but most didn't.

Bynum's conditioning, will to win, potential and overall diligence has been questioned incessantly for nearly eight years. Those numerous knee surgeries and procedures were of some concern, but his ability to lead, to be "The Man" was a bigger one—until last year.

During the 2012-13 truncated season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bynum began to come into his own. He averaged a career high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds to go along with 1.9 blocks per game. His PER skyrocketed to a career best 22.9 and his usage rate (23.8) had never been higher. 

He only missed six games, adding to the argument that he had finally arrived.

Or so we thought.

Has Bynum ever truly arrived?

Has he ever not been a disappointment?

Inquiries into his work ethic aside, his skill set has never been doubted. He's been considered a force in the post, as someone who can overpower his defender when his back is to the basket and as someone who can protect the rim about as well as anyone in the league.

To say he "arrived" however, is a stretch.

It's also an insult.

Are we supposed to be impressed that it took Bynum the better part of seven years to arrive?

Bynum has often been compared to Howard and has been referred to has the second-best center in the league.

A few have even had the gall to argue he's actually better, when he's really not.

Through his first seven seasons in the league, Howard has averaged a double-double in every single one of them. No other player in the NBA has averaged at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in each of the last seven seasons.

Just Howard.

Bynum has averaged a double-double just twice through his first seven years of professional ball. So when pitted against Howard, he is a disappointment.

And if anything, last season only aided in his demise.

Up until last year, we could only postulate about the type of player Bynum could be.

He has always been a disappointment when his statistical prowess has been compared to Howard's, but he became an even greater disappointment after we learned what he was capable of.

Last season was the one in which Bynum went from an ambiguous project to superstar, a pedestal he has unceremoniously been removed from since.

We shouldn't be surprised.

This season has been more indicative of Bynum's career than last year ever was. This is the fourth time in eight seasons Bynum has missed more than 30 games, the second time he's missed more than 40 games, and the first time he's missed 50-plus.

Of the 608 regular season games he's been eligible to play in, Bynum has missed 216 of them (35.5 percent).

In other words, he has sat out for more than one-third of his entire career.

Of course that's disappointing.

It always has been.

And now it's gotten worse.

Bynum gave us a glimpse into the superstar he could become if his knees weren't wrapped in fragile stickers.

The Sixers aren't attempting to wage war on a prospect with an uncertain ceiling; they're trying to survive without a player that was everything they needed just last year.

Disappointment isn't just about being unable to reach your potential.

It's not just about the Darko Milicics, who were held to high expectations they never came close to meeting.

It's about watching a player toil with greatness, draw constant comparisons to the best (deserving or not), only to come crashing down as they reach the precipice of unequivocal dominance.  

Bynum doesn't just fall into the latter.

He defines it.

We've spent the better part of the decade willing ourselves to believe in Bynum, trusting that the games he played were a more accurate depiction of his future than the ones he missed.

It's different now though.

With every absence, his knees become a more precise representation of the player he actually is.

And the immense disappointment he has always been.

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and unless otherwise noted.


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