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Sixers' outlook as fuzzy as the prognosis on Bynum's knees


Andrew Bynum has yet to play a game for the Sixers after the huge offseason trade from LA. (Getty Images)  
Andrew Bynum has yet to play a game for the Sixers after the huge offseason trade from LA. (Getty Images)  

The curious tale of Andrew Bynum and his knees gets more curious and ominous by the day.

While sources close to the Philadelphia 76ers center are disputing speculation that Bynum could need season-ending surgery, there has been a notable shortage of good, specific news regarding his prognosis. And with every vague update comes the unenviable truth that the Sixers' blockbuster trade for Bynum could push them to the brink of his free agency without any firm answers about his long-term health.

A person connected to Bynum told CBSSports.com Wednesday that the center's knee issues are not believed to be career-threatening. The Sixers, their medical staff and Bynum's camp jointly believe they are close to discovering the cause of recurring bone bruises in both knees, and are hopeful that a definitive prognosis and course of corrective action could be determined in about 7-10 days.

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This is of little consolation to the Sixers, who elected to participate in the four-team trade that landed Dwight Howard with the Lakers by sending Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, plus Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and a first-round pick to the Magic. The Sixers got Bynum from the Lakers and Jason Richardson from Orlando.

The extent of Bynum's physical exertion while on Philadelphia's payroll to the tune of $16.9 million this season has been rehab and an infamous trip to the bowling alley, where the center said he aggravated his left knee -- not the one in which he first had a bone bruise diagnosed last month. The Sixers have released several lengthy updates on Bynum's condition, and they have been unusually detailed and discouraging. Bynum said last week he has a "mirror thing going on" in his left knee, where cartilage weakness and bone bruising also have been detected.

"We have to continue to be patient," Sixers GM Tony DiLeo told reporters recently. "We want to be cautious. We're looking long term in this, not short term, and big picture. We're going to do what's best for Andrew and what's best for the organization and try to get him as healthy as he can be and get him back on the court when he is ready."

"As healthy as he can be" was another in a long line of vague and unfortunate turns of phrase when it comes to Bynum's recovery. An orthopedic surgeon who has not examined Bynum or his MRIs told a Philadelphia area newspaper for a story published Wednesday that Bynum had not undergone MRIs on both knees before experiencing pain in the left one last week. That's false, said a person close to Bynum who told CBSSports.com that the center had both knees examined in Germany before undergoing Orthokine injection treatment in September.

The same doctor also speculated that Bynum may need season-ending surgery, but such a determination has yet to be made by the doctors who actually are caring for him. Either way, you don't have to be a surgeon to figure out that this is only going in one direction for Bynum and the Sixers -- the wrong one. Since news of the setback with Bynum's other knee broke last week, rival executives have been privately wondering if Bynum would play at all this season.

Whatever is or isn't going to be revealed in the next week or so about Bynum's immediate and long-term future, there is no denying that the Sixers' elation over obtaining Bynum in August will turn to remorse if he doesn't get back on the court this season and prove himself worthy of a max contract.

On one hand, if the answer is no and the Sixers let him walk when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, they will be about $13.3 million better off on their 2013-14 books than if they hadn't made the trade. They will be stuck with Richardson's $12.8 million over the next two seasons, but will be out from under Iguodala's $15.9 million next season plus the $3.6 million that Harkless and Vucevic would've accounted for. Of course, Harkless and Vucevic weren't just salary figures; they were assets -- young players on rookie contracts. Iguodala's expiring contract would have been a substantial asset in the future, as well.

Would the Sixers have traded all that for cap space? Of course not. They could have done better down the road if that were the plan, and that most assuredly wasn't the plan. The Sixers were an up-and-coming team with a developing defensive identity, a team that needed one piece to push it into elite company in the Eastern Conference. The trade was done with the belief that Bynum was that missing piece. Now, for the first month and possibly two -- and possibly more -- Bynum is not a missing piece. He's simply missing.

How do you recover from such a stroke of bad injury luck in the NBA? You don't; ask the Portland Trail Blazers, who chose Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in the 2007 draft and will forever be trying -- and failing -- to live it down.

Bynum's wild hairdo and the amusing bowling GIFs that permeate the Internet have put a laugh track underneath what is an otherwise serious situation. Bynum has logged more than 60 games only twice in his seven-year career. Though he played and started 60 out of 66 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, knee injuries have been a persistent subtext to his career.

When healthy, he can be and has been dominant. The Sixers made this trade with that in mind, and now have been reminded of the qualifier that comes with the talent. As one person who knows Bynum well pointed out, there simply aren't that many 7-foot-1, 290-pound humans who are required to run and jump constantly for a living. It takes its toll.

And a man that big, with that much talent, casts quite a shadow.

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com

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