PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers’ Andrew Bynum gamble was a bust.
At least, for this season.
Philadelphia now has to decide if it will offer the former All-Star center any kind of long-term deal without him ever playing a second for the franchise.
Bynum’s season is officially over, and he’s set for season-ending arthroscopic surgery on both knees today. He has not played this season because of bone bruises in both of his knees. The 25-year-old is an unrestricted free agent and may never play a game for the Sixers.
“After many months of rehabilitation and consulting with numerous doctors, Andrew and the doctors treating him determined that this is the best course of action at this point,” general manager Tony DiLeo said Monday night. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate his status moving forward.”
The arthroscopic surgery will be performed by Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York. The procedure will clean out loose bodies from within the knees in an attempt to alleviate pain and swelling.
Bynum was shut down in training camp as a precaution, but the Sixers originally hoped he’d be ready by opening night Oct. 31. Bynum said since training camp he would play this season. But after he experienced swelling in his right knee after a 5-on-5 scrimmage late last month, he acknowledged a return might not be possible.
Bynum was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a four-team trade and was expected to make the 76ers contenders in the East.
Without Bynum, the Sixers have slumped to 26-40 a year after reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I feel like everybody’s been worried about Andrew the whole season,” All-Star guard Jrue Holiday said. “It’s like, all right, let my man breathe. I guess right now he’s going through a tough time. I’m just praying for him and hoping everything’s OK.”
He won two NBA titles in seven seasons with the Lakers. Bynum was coming off his best NBA season after averaging career highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while making his first All-Star team, starting for the West. He was the NBA’s third-leading rebounder and 20th-leading scorer, while also ranking sixth in the league with 1.93 blocked shots per game.
Bynum last talked to the media on March 1 and said he would not play in pain or be pressured into playing and risking a potential nine-figure payday.
“I think being healthy is more important than everything else,” Bynum said. “If I am healthy, I’ll get a deal. I have to be able to play and I need to get to the point with my body where I’m able to play, however long that takes.”
The Sixers can offer Bynum more years and more money than any other team.
Bynum was acquired as part of a four-team trade that also saw the Sixers land Jason Richardson. Richardson was shut down after 33 games with knee injuries. The Sixers sent Andre Iguodala to Denver and Nik Vucevic to Orlando as part of the trade. Both players are having solid seasons. Bynum will earn $16.5 million this season without ever playing to the potential the organization expected when they made him the centerpiece of team.
The Sixers welcomed Bynum with a public press conference that whipped hundreds of fans into a frenzy. Without playing a game for the Sixers, he said he wanted to make Philadelphia his home — and the team was ready to commit.
“Where do I sign?” owner Joshua Harris said. “Show me the contract.”
The Sixers are now left wondering if he’ll ever play for them.