Marcus Hayes: Sixers need Bynum later, not now

Posted: October 26, 2012

TRASH THE SCRIPT, because not all of the principals will be performing.

The Sixers will unveil their reconstructed franchise in 6 days. The summer reconstruction centered around the trade of Andre Iguodala, now a member of the Denver Nuggets, who, coincidentally - really - will be the visitors in the opener.

Jason Richardson, part of that four-team blockbuster, will start at shooting guard for the Sixers.

Andrew Bynum, the centerpiece of the deal, will watch.

Indefinitely.

Thank goodness.

The bone bruise Bynum suffered executing an up-and-under move in the offseason is nowhere near healed. He cannot even run. Neither he nor the team will officially count him out for Wednesday, but Darryl Dawkins has as much a chance at playing as Bynum does.

Which is smart, on several levels.

"Of course, everyone would like to see him out there," said general manager Tony DiLeo. "We're just going to do what's in the best interests of Andrew and what's in the best interests of the team."

Considering the Sixers' stated plan, what's in the best interests of Andrew defines the best interests of the team.

The Sixers traded for Bynum hoping to secure the best center in the Eastern Conference not only for this season, the last of his current contract, but far beyond this season.

Pushing Bynum to come back for the opener might do further damage, more permanent damage, to a player who has played hurt most of his 7-year career.

Pushing Bynum to be ready for Wednesday also would tell Bynum that he is little more than a gate draw.

Letting Bynum play when he is ready?

It lets him be healthier, ostensibly for longer, this season.

It tells Bynum that he is a precious item around whom the Sixers hope to make annual runs at an NBA title.

"He still has some discomfort in his knee," DiLeo said. "We want to be sure . . . We are going to withhold him from basketball-related activities until he is pain-free."

Which, of course, is absurd.

Bynum is unlikely to ever be pain-free.

Last month he underwent the increasingly common blood-spinning procedure in Germany that has helped revitalize the careers of Kobe Bryant and golfer Fred Couples.

He received a Synvisc lubricant injection Monday to aid in the recovery from the bone bruise.

"Pain-free" always will be a relative concept for Bynum, the way it is for addle-kneed Chase Utley.

He knows that.

"I think it's better to be cautious. Let it fully heal," Bynum said. "I wouldn't want to play with pain. I think pain and swelling are indications that something's going on.

"If it was that certain time, I would definitely play."

It is not that certain time.

It is not a stretch run, with a playoff berth at stake.

It is not the last 2 weeks, when homecourt often is decided.

It certainly is not the postseason, which is the whole point of Bynum wearing red, white and blue.

It is the beginning of the season.

The team went 6-1 in exhibition play. Exhibition, yes, but it played a brand of basketball that has coach Doug Collins - a purist and a realist - excited about the club, especially since it is playing well without its biggest piece.

Having battled injury his whole basketball life, Collins can sympathize.

"I'm sure he's incredibly disappointed," Collins said. "When you're hurt, and you can't play, it's no fun. I'm sure, from his standpoint, he wants to be out here as much as anybody."

Bynum is less excited than exasperated.

"Psychologically, it stinks not being able to play. It's tough to stay motivated," he said. "Everything's about the big picture."

It is a complicated scene.

Like the Sixers, Bynum finds himself stymied.

He will be a free agent after this season.

When should he man up and play?

Will games missed in October and November (make no mistake, there probably will be some missed in November) affect suitors next summer?

Due to injury, Bynum missed parts of each of the four seasons that preceded the truncated 2011-12 campaign. At some point, he will have to play, and play effectively.

He has to prove that the 13.1 scoring average since his rookie season is low because of the ball-hogging company he kept with the Lakers, not any deficiency in his own game.

He has to prove he can be the focal point of an offense; that he can penalize double-teams; that he can, nightly, for more than 30 minutes per game, carry the scoring load.

He has to prove that the knees will not fail him during the extent of his next deal: 4 years for some other team, 5 years if he re-signs with the Sixers.

"He is a big investment for our team," DiLeo said. "We want to build with Andrew."

Best to start with a sound foundation.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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