Andrew Bynum feels it. He feels sharp, stinging pain in his surgically reconstructed knees and doubts whether his explosiveness will ever return. At 26 years old, he is already talking about learning to play with veteran savvy rather than his natural abilities.
Still, he is playing. And that has to make the Philadelphia 76ers just ecstatic.
No, wait. Not “ecstatic” — the opposite of that.
As you might recall, Bynum missed all of last season, his lone year in Philly, as he dithered and dallied through treatment on his obviously decimated knees. He eventually required double knee surgery to treat bone and cartilage damage, as well as to remove “debris” from the joints. His initial estimate that he might miss a few weeks turned into a whole year, forcing the Sixers to start all over again by blowing up their team this summer.
It wasn’t just that Bynum was physically unable to play that rubbed Sixers fans the wrong way. It was the perception that he was unwilling to even try, that he would say all the right things to the media about working his way back and then lollygag around when he thought people weren’t watching.
This is a guy who has been caught by intrepid fans with camera phones parking in a handicap parking space and letting his dog relieve itself on the sidewalk without cleaning it up. He forfeited the benefit of the doubt in regards to his personality long ago.
Yet now he’s back on the court in Cleveland, toiling away despite what he told the Plain Dealer are “little, sharp pains” in both knees. This is a troubling development for the Cavs, who have to be encouraged with the way Bynum has performed in limited minutes in the first week of the regular season. He called the pain “nothing too bad,” but his history of struggling to stay on the court has to raise a red flag for Cavs brass regardless.
Meanwhile, the Sixers can only spit in Bynum’s general direction. As Philly takes solace in its surprising 3-1 start, the organization would at least feel empathy for the Cavs if Bynum suffered another setback. But the idea of Bynum enduring the pain and soldiering on must stick in the Sixers’ craw. Even if he never plays another game in Cleveland, at least he tried. That’s more than he ever seemed to give in Philadelphia.
In some ways, a healthy Bynum would be good for the game and fun to see. The more Bynum is able to play, the more formidable the Cavs are likely to be, and anything that is good for Kyrie Irving is worth rooting for. If Cleveland is one of the last four Eastern Conference teams standing in the spring, there’s no doubt who will be the people’s favorite against the likes of Miami, Brooklyn, Chicago or Indiana.
None of that matters to the Sixers, however. All they are likely to see is a potential All-Star who never seemed to care about giving them all that he had, now allegedly playing through pain for another club. If that irritates the Sixers, it is hard to blame them.