PHILADELPHIA — Dressed in his team-issued practice gear, Andrew Bynum looked the part of a Philadelphia 76er.
Bynum just couldn’t run, practice or play like the rest of the team.
Wearing his Sixers tank top for the first day of training camp, Bynum was reduced Tuesday to an All-Star bench player. He participated in some light workouts, then took a seat on the bleachers behind Doug Collins, watching nonplussed as the third-year Sixers coach directed the season’s first scrimmage.
The preseason will go on without Bynum. The Sixers ran a full-court scrimmage, complete with refs, with Bynum not much more than a sideline observer. The Sixers are resting the All-Star center for three weeks as a precaution after he received knee treatment in Germany.
The Sixers remained optimistic that Bynum, acquired from Los Angeles as part of a four-team trade, will return in time for the Oct. 31 opener against Denver.
But the Sixers will play preseason games, including Oct. 13 in Atlantic City, gameplan, and scrimmage all without their biggest presence. That can only complicate the next month for a franchise that has designs on a deep playoff run.
The party line on Bynum at the first day of camp at Saint Joseph’s University was, better now than later.
“It’s not frustrating, but it does complicate things a lot for us,” forward Thaddeus Young said. “Bynum is a big part of our offense and what we’re trying to do. We have to simulate a lot of stuff we’re going to do with a, how should I say it, a dummy Bynum on the court.”
Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown are a bit more than mannequins simply filling in for Bynum. Hawes was penciled in as the starting forward before Bynum went down. Hawes and Bynum would give the Sixers two 7-footers in the middle, making them one of the more formidable duos in the East. Collins will mix and match in the preseason, giving Hawes, Brown, Young, and Lavoy Allen shots at center or power forward.
Collins advised the Sixers not to think the mishmash of lineups run out there will be the way it stays on opening night.
Collins leaned on Bynum during drills, asking the big man, “Is there where you want the guys to be? How do you like them cutting?”
Only 24, Bynum came to Philadelphia with massive expectations to be The Man on the team. Sitting out was a tough way to start.
“He knows that, come time when he’s going to get out on the floor, people are looking for him to help take this franchise to new heights,” Collins said. “He’s well aware of that. I think he’s ready to take on that challenge.
“But it’s not a one-man thing.”
Collins, who likes a nine-deep rotation, knows all the big men are going to have to bang and score whether Bynum is there or not. The increased playing time in the preseason can only help them. But the Sixers didn’t invite fans to a splashy press conference at a historical site for signing Brown. They did it for Bynum.
And now, it’s time to look forward. Bynum, who has a history of knee issues, has to play at least 75 games for the Sixers to truly become a threat in the East.
“He’s the piece,” Young said. “He is the piece to our success. We believe he can make plays for us all around the basket, all around the court.”
The Sixers can’t wait to see him in action.
Collins, who had his 2013-14 option picked up Monday, opened his third camp trying to find a way to mesh all the new faces on the roster. That doesn’t even include Bynum. Allen, Hawes, Young, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner are, amazingly, the only returning players off a team that reached the East semis.
Collins stressed to his team this week the importance of teamwork and communication. They’re all going through this new experience together.
Holiday (22) and Turner (23) have staked their claim already as locker room leaders. Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand were the elder statesman, but they were dumped in the offseason, as was Lou Williams, who brought swagger and catchphrases to the locker room.
“I know me and Evan had a different mindset, kind of saying, this is our gym,” Holiday said.
They want Bynum to come out and play. The 7-footer also has a bone bruise on his right knee, though it’s unrelated to the injections on his knee.
“Andrew wants to be out there and compete,” general manager Tony DiLeo said. “We’re holding him back. We want to be cautious. This is preseason. We don’t want to get him out there too soon until he’s healed and ready to go.”