HANG TIME, Texas — Never mind all the wisecracks about Andrew Bynum’s head being in the gutter when he decided that bowling was a good idea for a patient with knee problems.
What was already a difficult situation for the 76ers with no end in sight continues to get messier and filled with more mystery.
Jason Wolf of the Delaware News Journal spoke with an internationally respected orthopedic surgeon who is not a member of Bynum’s medical team and has not examined his MRIs, but said the information that has been released publicly points to a diagnosis of osteochondritis dessicans lesions.
The surgeon said that if this is the case, there’s a small chance that Bynum’s knees could heal sufficiently on their own in time for him to return for the playoffs this season, but called that scenario “wishing on a star.”
“While they can heal non-operatively, they can take a long time [four to six months] to heal, and in adult athletes, frequently they will require surgical intervention at some point if there isn’t adequate healing within the first several months of treatment,” the surgeon said.
He added that if the 25-year-old returns to the court too early and the lesions become large enough, the condition could become career threatening. The surgeon spoke on condition of anonymity because Bynum is not his patient, but this probable diagnosis, given the player’s symptoms and treatment thus far, is backed up by reams of medical literature.
“I’m a little bit worried, bluntly, that it’s more advanced and the guy probably does need surgery. But if he needs surgery, then the year is completely written off,” the surgeon said. “But if he doesn’t have surgery and they think they can demonstrate healing in about four months, then he could potentially still come back for the playoffs.
“That’s what it sounds like they’re thinking about.”
The minds of Sixers management must be swimming in so many different directions each day as they wait for the latest medical updates and wonder if the player they are paying $16.5 million for this season will ever play.
On the bright side, Sixers coach Doug Collins does another of his mix-and-match, hustle-and-scratch jobs with a hungry, undersized lineup that has produced three straight wins and a 7-4 record.
But that’s exactly the kind of scenario the Sixers were trying to avoid after claiming the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference standings and then knocking off the depleted Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. They made the deal that sent their leading scorer, Andre Iguodala, to Denver for the 7-foot-2, 285-pound Bynum because they knew hustle could only get them so far. It was the big man in the middle — a former All-Star with the Lakers — who could elevate Philly to the level of contender.
Bynum, who has a history of knee troubles, was a gamble for Philly from the outset. The Sixers were hoping he’d be healthy and that a starring role with them could convince him to sign a max-level contract next summer as a free agent. But almost from the day that he was officially introduced to Philly in the shadow of the Liberty Bell, that plan began growing cracks.
Bynum has already undergone Orthokine blood-spinning treatment in Germany during the offseason and the timetable for his debut with the Sixers keeps getting pushed back.
It should be noted that Sixers medical staff has in no way said that Bynum is lost for the season. General manager Tony DiLeo repeats that the club has hopes to have an update on Bynum’s status by mid-December.
Yet, acccording to the surgeon contacted by the Delaware News Journal:
If there isn’t adequate healing in his right knee by mid-December or possibly January, it is likely that he will need surgery. Should the right knee exhibit adequate healing by that point, Bynum would still have to worry about the left knee, which he confirmed Sunday began swelling after bowling last week.
“It would be another two months before he could eventually be at a point where he could return [from the injury to his right knee], so now they found something in his left knee, so add four months to that,” the surgeon said. “You’re looking at around the end of March or April as potentially the earliest that he could come back, assuming that the MRIs show healing.”
That’s when a difficult decision ratchets up to the level of one that could hamstring or cripple the franchise for years.
If Bynum needs surgery and misses the entire season, the Sixers would seem in no position to still offer the maximum contract to keep him as their centerpiece of the future. Yet they can hardly let him simply walk out the door and have nothing in return for Iguodala.