Ball Don't Lie

Andrew Bynum’s latest, most worrying left knee self-diagnosis: ‘Cartilage is missing’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton discuss the year 2010 (Getty Images)

Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum going on record to discuss his health and injury setbacks is nothing new, as he's been doing it for the entirety of his NBA career. Bynum giving himself what appears to be an unreasonable return date — sometime in mid-January after yet another MRI scheduled for Dec. 20 — should be taken with the usual grain of salt. His impact on the still-afloat 76ers, without a minute of in-game action featuring Andrew and his team to work with, is pointless to try and estimate.

What is new, and different, is one word. "Cartilage." And the admission, from Bynum, that he's missing some in his left knee, and that even Bynum (the guy that drives on the wrong side of the road, bowls on rehabbed knees, and parks in handicapped spaces when he's healthy) is more than aware of what playing without cartilage in a knee is like.

It's, like, unable to overcome. From The Delaware County Times:

"Health is going to be an issue. There's nothing I can really do about it. It's arthritis in the knees. Cartilage is missing. That's not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, the next three to five years, there may be something out there that really does help. For right now, it's a waiting game."

As we've gone over and over while detailing the frustrating career of Brandon Roy, cartilage does not grow again. It's not a ligament that can be repaired or even taken, as Danny Manning's surgeons once did, from a cadaver. Even a season-killing microfracture surgery can't cause the purposeful sort of internal bleeding needed to create that bone-y stuff that rubs up against your bones to return to where it's needed most.

[Also: Possible explanation for Steve Nash's slow return to Lakers]

And should Bynum come back, as he finally starts to speak with a sense of urgency about his status, one thing starts to stand out to both the cynic and compassionate observer. Andrew Bynum is going to come back in order to play for a contract. A shocking set of circumstances, given the idea that the 76ers would have been ready with a blank check back in August should Bynum wanted to extend his contract. A contract that expires in July, and may pay him more this season (just under $17 million) than most teams would be willing to give him spread out over the next two seasons based on these injury woes.

This doesn't take away from the lack of urgency that has been pervasive thus far in his four-month, zero-game stint with the Sixers. Taking part in a stop-short recreational activity like bowling was a ridiculous maneuver to pull off while rehabbing, and even in his most recent interview Bynum seems a little blasé about returning too quickly for a team that may not make it to the Finals.

From the County Times:

"As far as a threshold on the pain, it's about I think protecting and being cautious about my knees. I feel this pain walking around, so I think it'd be kind of silly to kind of start running or do anything basketball (related), because it's only going to get worse. Until it heals up, until this Germany procedure's half-life is over, being cautious and taking time and giving it its time to heal (is best). If this was the Finals, and it could be potentially, me helping this team win, I'm going to play because I think that's a serious time and you want to be a part of that. I don't think, especially right now, that it'd be a good time to risk anything. Why risk it when you have time to come back and be 100 percent?" […]

"Initially. I had to kind of relax a little bit. Being impatient in this situation would definitely be a detriment, so I wouldn't do that."

Of course, the 76ers currently have a better record than the Los Angeles Lakers team Bynum was traded from last summer. And Philly earned more second-round victories in 2012 than his Laker teams earned in 2011 and 2012 combined. That's what image and status will do for you, I suppose. It's completely understandable that Andrew doesn't want to play through pain right now or at any point for any team; but he's coming off as someone who is treating his time in Philadelphia as slumming.

Irrespective of the fact that, in order to save face following last August's trade, the 76ers might be the only team willing to hand him a massive contract this July. Or, perhaps, respectful of that fact.

This does, sadly, make complete and total sense. Since being pressed into full-time service with the Lakers in his second season, Bynum has missed 130 out of a possible 476 games. His career has been a frustrating mix of injuries, unprofessional off-court reports, marvelous production, and transaction talk. This guy was trade bait months before he even turned 20, but was still playing under a massive contract extension by the time he was 22 despite some injury woes. Regardless of those woes and frustrating ends to season, Bynum was long expected to take in another maximum contract extension in 2013. The mix, for a player that has been bounced out of the second round two consecutive seasons despite playoffs-shifting talent, has been toxic.

And the worst, unfortunately, might be yet to come. Bynum might grimace through a nearly bone-on-bone condition in that left knee for 45 games this year, grab that contract extension, and work as a millstone from here on out. For most players, you assume that they've hit the low point while you bloviate about what's gone wrong. With Bynum, it's easy to see things getting worse.

At least he's honest about it. Even if that candid tone, discussing that lack of cartilage, should have everyone worried.

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