With just five home games remaining in the season and the Sixers struggling with a 25-40 record, the team officially announced the inevitable on Monday evening.
All-Star center Andrew Bynum will have surgery on both knees on Tuesday to clean out the damage that has plagued him since October.
Bynum, a free agent at the end of the season, may never play a game for the 76ers. He will have arthroscopic surgery on both knees to clean out loose bodies to, “alleviate the pain and swelling,” according to the Sixers. Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York will perform the surgery.
“We sort of sensed that as the season progressed and he’d make a little progress and then it slowed,” head coach Doug Collins said. “I think it got to the point in time where Andrew had to get something done. I feel badly that I didn’t get to coach him this year. I think he would have been an incredible player for us this year.”
Bynum suffered a bone bruise in his right knee in September while working out ahead of the season in Los Angeles. Initially, the Sixers believed Bynum would return in time for the season opener. But when Bynum injured his left knee while bowling in November, the return was pushed back to December.
Bynum’s self-proclaimed return dates were spotty at best and constantly moving further back seemingly with every update. Unable to practice through the first half of the season, Bynum’s first (and only) full workout with the Sixers in February left him with pain and a swollen knee in the aftermath.
After the March 1 update, Bynum was rarely seen by the media before games or sitting on the team bench during games. It’s not known how much he worked out with the team after that first practice.
“I’ve talked about this before. As a man who suffered injuries as a young player, it’s devastating,” Collins said. “I can only imagine what’s racing through his mind right now. I hope we all keep him in prayer. He’s not played for us this year, but he’s still a 76er. I hope he has successful surgery and hopefully his career can bounce back and he can be an effective player.”
Acquired in the four-team blockbuster trade in which the Sixers sent Andre Iguodala to Denver and their last two first-round picks, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic to Orlando, the Sixers had high hopes for this season. With Bynum in the middle anchoring both the offense and defense, Collins stated that he thought the Sixers could win 60 games.
It wasn’t meant to be.
“When you give up a lot for a player and he comes in and doesn’t play, I don’t think that people know the pain that player feels,” Collins said. “I think we look at it sometimes and see the player and his exterior and we don’t understand how he handles things internally. I know from talking to Andrew how badly he wanted to play this year and how badly he wanted to help us.”
Headed into Monday’s action, the Sixers were eight games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are left to wonder about what could have been. More than anything, the Sixers were missing a presence in the paint all season.
“It sucks. It sucks to hear just from a friend perspective,” All-Star guard Jrue Holiday said. “I don’t know what it’s like, so I’m just praying for him.”
Center Spencer Hawes stood to gain the most from playing alongside Bynum. With Bynum in the paint, Collins said he envisioned Hawes playing off of him the way Pau Gasol did with the Lakers. Instead, Hawes was forced to take over in the paint and share time at center with 6-foot-9 Lavoy Allen.
“It’s tough, but at the same time we never played with him. It’s just speculation from there,” Hawes said. “We know how bad he wanted to get out there, but sitting around and thinking about that isn’t going to bring him back any quicker.”
Or at all. Bynum earned $16.9 million in the last year of his contract this year. He can be an unrestricted free agent this summer and can command a big deal from any team starved for a big man.
In the meantime, the Sixers can apply to get some of the money they paid for Bynum salary back. According to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, after a player misses 41 games, a team gets 80 percent of the salary back. For the Sixers with Bynum, they will get back approximately $13.2 million.
Bynum gets paid in full.
And the Sixers can only dream about what might have been.
“Obviously, it’s sad,” Collins said. “It’s been a tough year for our franchise and it’s been tough year for Andrew.”