Phil Sheridan: 76ers' Andrew Bynum is cause for concern

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Newly-acquired center Andrew Bynum has been sidelined with a knee injury. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Maybe it will turn out to be no big deal.

Maybe Andrew Bynum will miss November so he's at his best in May and June.

Maybe Bynum just wants to be Jeff Ruland for Halloween.

You are excused, however, for being skeptical about the 76ers' prize offseason acquisition.

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This is, after all, a city coming off two Phillies seasons held hostage by Chase Utley's knees. We have been told to remain calm and trust the team's word that all would be well. We have been bitten more than once and we're more than twice shy.

Let us not forget, either: The Sixers are the franchise that never did quite recover from the trades that brought Ruland to town as the centerpiece of a post-Moses Malone retooling. In a city with a memory as long as Philadelphia's, it is hard to watch this Bynum pantomime without remembering how Ruland was going to be fine, just fine, until he wasn't.

Of course, you don't really need a long memory. Elton Brand was going to be an elite player here, too.

So skepticism is understandable. It is also perfectly reasonable.

No matter what anyone says about regularly scheduled knee procedures and routine lube jobs, as if Bynum were an old Chevy Nova, this is not what the Sixers were expecting on the August day they acquired him. Doug Collins and the team's ownership group were in London for the Olympics, and they beamed as if they'd just outsmarted the entire NBA.

And it sure looked as if they had.

Dwight Howard had to be moved. The Lakers were the only real destination. That shook Bynum loose, creating a rare opportunity for some crafty team to land a young franchise-type center. The Sixers were the ones who got it done.

If you'd told Collins, Josh Harris and the rest that Bynum would not practice even once in training camp or the preseason, and that he would miss the opener and some unknown percentage of the start of the season - would they have made the same deal? Would they have shipped Andre Iguodala to Denver to get Bynum?

Maybe. And that's just the trouble here - too many maybes.

The saving grace is that the Sixers are not tethered to Bynum for the long term, at least not yet. He can't sink the franchise the way Ruland did in the previous century. For one thing, they didn't part with Malone or pass on drafting Brad Daugherty. For another, they can let Bynum walk after this season as a free agent and use the salary-cap space to sign someone else.

But this move wasn't supposed to be about escaping without irreparable damage. It was supposed to be about adding the kind of blue-chip player required to contend for a championship. Those are hard to come by, as the Sixers have proved for nearly 30 years.

Collins is correct that the Sixers "maxed out" the team built around Brand and Iguodala. As much fun as their run to the Eastern Conference semifinals was, it would have been folly to believe that same group was about to make the next step without major changes.

Give the new ownership group full credit for recognizing that, for having the spine to make those changes, and for having the acumen to pull off the most audacious move of the summer. Throw in accolades for scooping up a few complementary pieces - Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, Kwame Brown - without giving up any of the team's young potential stars.

Before the Bynum (and Richardson) deal, Collins seemed enthusiastic about solid, if unspectacular moves. Iguodala was in the mix at that point. Overall, it felt as if the Sixers were a team in transition, and that it would take a major move in 2013 to turn them into a contender.

The Bynum deal was so stunning because it accomplished that in a matter of hours instead of months. Talking to Collins in London, between Olympic semifinals he was working for NBC, the excitement was contagious. Here was a great coach with a potentially great roster. Anything seemed possible.

Bynum's trip to Germany for blood-spinning therapy was supposedly timed to have him ready for the season. Same with the other injection he had. But here we are. The season opens Wednesday night and Bynum hasn't been able to get through a single practice.

This was not the plan, no matter what anyone says.

This is a cause for real concern, no matter what anyone says. Any issues with weight-bearing joints are worrisome, especially joints that bear 285-pound men.

Maybe all of this will be long forgotten by May. Maybe Bynum's knees will carry the team deep into the playoffs. We can hope for the best. It's just that long, hard experience tells us to expect something else.

 


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe