Can you hear that?
It’s the sound of Andrew Bynum‘s knee crumbling under the pressure of the Philadelphia 76ers‘ championship aspirations and the breaking of said title hopes as a result.
We’d all be lying if we didn’t say that we saw this coming. After weeks of waiting for the team to establish a timetable for Bynum’s return, we’d be ignorant not to accept the obvious—Bynum wasn’t setting foot on the hardwood anytime in the near future.
And now, the elephant in Philadelphia’s locker room has spoken. That’s right, the Sixers finally announced (via Yahoo! Sports) what we all pretty much already knew:
Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum will miss at least five more weeks because of a bone bruise in his right knee and may not play in a game until early January.
When Bynum was hurt in mid-September, the team initially hoped its newly acquired star would be ready for the season opener Oct. 31. Late last month, though, the Sixers said he was out indefinitely.
Again, this comes has no surprise. After all, if there had been good news to share, the team would have divulged it long ago.
Yet the Sixers didn’t because there wasn’t anything to tell. Nothing to offer that wouldn’t erase Philadelphia’s championship push, that is.
You see, after acquiring Bynum—who is indisputably the second-best center in the NBA—the Sixers became an instant powerhouse. He would be able to compress defenses the way that Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes never could, creating opportunities and opening lanes for guys like Jrue Holiday—among others—that Andre Iguodala never did.
And such a bold proclamation was fine back then. But not anymore.
Without Bynum, the Sixers are still a stingy defensive team. They’re allowing just 88.33 points per game, second-best in the league. They’re a talented, deep bunch without him as well. Guys like Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Nick Young and Evan Turner haven’t exactly turned heads, but we understand what they bring to the court on a good night. Plus, there’s Jrue Holiday, who has been a stud in Bynum’s absence.
But that’s enough to make the playoffs, not fuel a championship a run. The Sixers currently have the 27th-ranked offense in the league, averaging just 88.67 points per bout. That’s given them a win differential of just 0.34 points—essentially nothing.
So yeah, they’re keeping their heads above .500. For now. How much longer is that going to last, though?
You can’t contend for a championship by just barely winning and never exuding dominance.
Which is where Bynum was supposed to come in. He was supposed to be that star presence in the post, the franchise star that carried this team on both ends of the floor.
He’s no longer a symbol of hope, but rather an indication of all that continues to go wrong for the Sixers.
Bynum has already missed six games, and if he won’t be fit to return until January 1, he’ll miss another 30 contests, 18 of which come against legitimate playoff hopefuls.
Without someone to intimidate the masses, how well are we to expect Philadelphia to perform during this stretch? Better yet, once Bynum is in game shape, how long will it take for him to become acclimated to his new teammates?
You see, the Sixers aren’t just facing another 30 games of Bynum-less basketball, they’re facing that plus at least another month of growing pains.
On paper, Bynum transformed this team into a contender overnight, but in reality, it takes time to build a rapport with one’s teammates. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers. Or Miami Heat. Or Denver Nuggets. Or even the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It doesn’t matter if a team is integrating a bevy of star talents or just one superstar into its game plan. No matter the amount, whenever a franchise pillar is involved, these things take time.
Which is a luxury that Philadelphia isn’t afforded. Because not only are the Sixers not a contender without Bynum, but upon his return, they instantly have to reestablish their identity. And a championship-pedigree identity isn’t about to actualize itself in time for the Sixers to make a legitimate championship push. Not this season, anyway.
But perhaps maybe next year.
If the state of Bynum’s knee permits a new contract, that is.
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