It is amazing what a difference a few months and a trip to Europe for a mysterious knee treatment can make to dampen a fan base’s enthusiasm. When the Philadelphia 76ers were part of the NBA’s blockbuster transaction — acquiring Andrew Bynum in a four-way trade that sent Andre Iguodala to Denver — the city’s excitement level was through the roof. Fans were so excited that the organization got over a thousand people to show up for Bynum’s introductory press conference.
So it would only make sense, with baseball season over, the NHL stuck in a self-destructive labor dispute and the Eagles imploding by the second, that enthusiasm would be crescendoing to a fever pitch. But a quick glance at the sports Richter Scale around these parts clearly shows that the NBA season opener is hardly causing any kind of buzz.
Bynum missed all of training camp and the entire preseason with what is being labeled as a bone bruise of his right knee. There is no chance the big man will play tonight against Iguodala and the Nuggets. Word around the team is he won’t make his return for at least another two-to-four weeks.
The organization even released a statement regarding Bynum’s status on Tuesday evening:
“As previously announced, Andrew Bynum has a bone bruise of the right knee.
While Andrew and the 76ers are both eager for him to resume game play as soon as possible, given the long regular season and playoffs, the team intends to act with caution as the date of his return. Andrew has already commenced low impact conditioning and will be re-evaluated by medical personnel on a continuous basis.
Tony DiLeo, the 76ers general manager, said: "With the team's intriguing play in the pre-season leading to a 6-1 pre-season record, we are confident that the 76ers will be an exciting, talented and highly competitive team from day one. When Andrew Bynum rejoins for game play, that will take an already strong team to an even higher level.”
Obviously the situation is far from ideal, but if Bynum’s injury is truly as minor as a bone bruise then the Sixers will be fine long term. They have enough pieces in place to tread water without their new leader for 10 or 15 games. But if the knee becomes a recurring problem, this team’s prospects are sunk.
It is impossible to predict what Doug Collins’ team is capable of right now. They have a solid supporting cast, one of the best coaches in the league and the second-best center in basketball if Bynum is right. If he’s not, they have a team built around their big man with Kwame Brown starting at center.
There literally is not middle ground here. Philly is either on its way to 50-plus wins, a top-four seed and an outside shot at reaching the Eastern Conference Finals; or they are a 30-win team that will be rooting for luck when the NBA Draft’s lottery is held next spring.
Only time, the Sixers medical staff and Bynum’s right knee will tell how it all unfolds. Not exactly what Philly fans had in mind just a few short months ago.