Sixers center Andrew Bynum sits on the bench as his team plays against the… (H. Rumph Jr / Associated…)
It could be the countdown to nothing for the Philadelphia 76ers, the way each breathless update is offset by another discouraging development.
Andrew Bynum will be ready for the start of training camp after receiving injections in his arthritic knees in Germany! Actually, it's auf Wiedersehen until late October because of pain in the center's right knee.
Once the discomfort in Bynum's knee subsides, he'll be rolling toward a quick return! Well, that is until he put his left knee in the gutter in November while bowling.
He's back on the practice court with his teammates! Thanks for the five-on-five scrimmage memories, since that's all the 76ers may have in the wake of swelling in Bynum's right knee that could end his season before it began.
If the Lakers think Dwight Howard has been a disappointment while slowly rounding into form after back surgery, imagine the frustration of the trade partner that was counting on Bynum to help make it a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia gave up an All-Star in guard Andre Iguodala, an emerging star in center Nikola Vucevic and a conditional first-round draft pick as part of the trade that helped the Lakers acquire Howard.
The 76ers ended up with nothing more than a season-long headache.
"Worst-case scenario, it's another month," Bynum said in December, long before things really bottomed out this week with the revelation that the 7-footer may need arthroscopic surgery to clean out loose cartilage in his right knee.
On the plus side, Bynum, who is making $16.8 million this season, recently said his left knee feels good, so there's that.
Bynum has evoked memories of Jeff Ruland, two of the dirtiest words in Philadelphia sports history. Ruland was a former All-Star center-forward who was traded to the 76ers in the summer of 1986, joining a team that included Julius Irving and Charles Barkley.
Knee problems limited Ruland to five games the next season before he retired in 1987. Ruland embarked on a largely fruitless comeback with the 76ers and the Detroit Pistons in the early 1990s but never fulfilled his mammoth potential.
Some critics are already suggesting the 76ers should sever ties with Bynum, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"Let's cut to the chase and cut our losses here," Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan wrote last month. "The Sixers should sit Bynum down, thank him for his tiresome — sorry, tireless — efforts to get on the court and offer him a plane ticket to the location of his choice. It is time to end the pretense that Bynum is ever going to play center for the 76ers."
Tony DiLeo, the 76ers' general manager, told reporters covering the team that keeping Bynum, 25, remained "Plan A." The 76ers are the only team that can offer him a maximum five-year contract worth about $102 million.
The question is whether Bynum will warrant a Brinks truck of cash considering his history of knee issues that dates back more than five years.
A dislocated left kneecap limited him to 35 games with the Lakers during the 2007-08 season, and he played in only 54 games during the 2010-11 season after his recovery from off-season surgery on his right knee took longer than expected.
Bynum rebounded mightily in his final season as a Laker, averaging career highs in points (18.7 per game) and rebounds (11.8) in 2011-12 while becoming an All-Star for the first time.
He was widely viewed as the NBA's second-best center behind Howard. Bynum had so much upside that the 76ers were willing to take on the undesirable contract of shooting guard Jason Richardson as part of the four-team, 12-player trade involving Howard. Richardson played in only 33 games this season before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left knee.
The 76ers mostly shrugged off Bynum's absence on the way to 12-9 start with Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown playing center. Then things quickly deteriorated and the 76ers fell out of playoff contention, in part because they had Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown playing center.
Bynum actually did more than entertain with an array of hairdos that included corn rows, a full-blown Afro and something Grantland's Rembert Browne dubbed the "braided halfro."
As quick with a quip as he is to park one of his high-end sports cars in a vacant handicapped parking space, Bynum also became a crowd pleaser among teammates.
"He's hilarious," 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday told The Times last month. "He kind of has this witty sarcasm. He's a really smart guy. I guess I've never really talked to him before, but getting to know him now, you can tell he's just like a really funny person.
"On the court, I haven't experienced that yet. But talking about basketball, you can tell he's been in the game for a long time and how he knows his position and I guess on this team he speaks up so much, he has become a captain."
Has Bynum parked in Holiday's spot at the Wells Fargo Center?
"No, but he can have my spot," Holiday said. "It's all about the big man."
Yes it is. And not in a way the 76ers ever would have wanted.