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Can I have a talk with you? alternately, The Lost Season: A Tragedy featuring Andrew & Doug
March 13, 2013Posted by on
I think it was a couple weeks ago after yet another hopeless Andrew Bynum update that I started ideating about a post chronicling the beginning-to-present saga of Bynum’s disappointing tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. The comments below were easy enough to compile, but the format proved to be more challenging than I would’ve liked. I tried my hand at Storify, the web-based platform that allows users to aggregate social media and/or content into a single, cohesive story. It’s a beautiful presentation, much prettier than what you’ll find below, but it failed to suit my needs, so I’ve laid out the ongoing dialogue between Bynum, the Sixers organization and the media as it’s played out over the past eight months in the form of quotes, injury updates, speculation and frustration. My comments are included throughout.
*Prior warning: It’s a longish post that at times feels repetitive. I’ve bolded areas that I’ve found amusing, disturbing, intriguing and insightful.
The trade was finalized on August 10th, 2012 and these are the first comments we get:
Andrew Bynum: “I’m leaning toward making this my home.” – 8/15/2012
Andrew Bynum: “I went through the whole season last year and didn’t have any setbacks…As of right now, my knees feel good.” – 8/16/12
Dancing with Noah (DWN): That comment about his knees seems ominously jinxing. I’m not the superstitious type, but given the benefit of hindsight, Bynum should’ve kept those comments to himself.
Doug Collins (Philly coach): “The day of the press conference we went back and he, I and Jason Richardson spent some time together along with some of the other people in the organization and I think for Drew, I think a big part of him is he’s excited to be coming home. He was out in LA and I don’t think he ever really fit into the LA scene. I talked to him the other day and he was ready to go over to Germany to have the little procedure, the little injection done in his knee, he’s gotten home in the country here and is excited to be back near his family and everything like that. I think he’s excited that he’s going to be the primary focus of us playing through the post rather than being the third option in LA. He’s a very smart and bright guy, he’s articulate, he knows the game and we talked a little bit about it. Sometimes you say things and I think even he would agree that some of the things that he said came across maybe being a little immature a couple of times. He knows the play on JJ Barea is going to be seen forever and he will always be a part of that but I just feel like he’s in a great place.” – 9/12/12
Doug Collins: “When the opportunity to get an Andrew Bynum came about, you have to obviously do that because you can’t get a low-post center of that magnitude. I think all the things we’ve tried to do we’ve accomplished, but more importantly we did it in a way that going forward this organization is not hamstrung with bad contracts, we have flexibility.” – 9/14/12
Doug Collins: “Andrew is an incredibly well-spoken young guy. He’s articulate, he’s bright, he’s smart and he knows the game. I think he’s happy to be home. He just got a place in the suburbs here and said he loves being here on the East Coast. I think he views this as a great opportunity to be viewed as a central figure on a team every single night that’s going to count on him. I think he views this as a step in his career where he really has a chance to show what he’s all about. He’s got a good sense of humor. I feel really good about him.” – 9/14/12
DWN: At this point, over a month into the Bynum era, everything’s going great. Collins has publicly explained the trade, commented on Bynum’s comfort level, brought up his previous challenges with immaturity as a way of highlighting his current maturity level and even applauded the big man’s sense of humor—presumably this was not a reference to Bynum’s ever-evolving hairstyles.
Tom DiLeo (Philly GM): DiLeo: Bynum came back from getting knee injections in Germany last week and “he says he feels very good.” – 9/24/12
Tom DiLeo: “His agent said he wants to come to the surroundings and see the team, see the atmosphere…He’s been very, very happy. His agent said he hasn’t seen him this happy in a long time. I think everything will work out. I think we’ll like Andrew and Andrew will like it here. At the appropriate time, we’ll do the negotiations.” – 9/25/12
DWN: Even if you’re approaching things in late September from a place of cynicism, you have to be feeling semi-good about Bynum in Philadelphia. His few comments have been positive. The coach and GM are thrilled to have the next in a long line of Philly big men that dates back to Wilt, Darryl Dawkins (he was entertaining at least), Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo and now Bynum. Of course the more cynical of you were saying, “It’s Bynum! It’s only a matter of time before he gets hurt!”
John Mitchell (Reporter for Philadelphia Enquirer): Speaking of Bynum, he looks to be in great condition. He’s trim. He’s engaging his teammates and coaches. And if they were playing games right now, Bynum would be out there. – 10/7/12
Andrew Bynum: “I’m not sure, it’s really up to the trainers and the doctors right now, but I think if all the beans were on the table right now I’d be out there. It definitely feels better. A lot of it has to do with my pain threshold. It’s just to the point where I can’t run up and down with the team right now.” – 10/9/12
DWN: I think this is something, as a fan, journalist or blogger, we’re used to hearing (albeit, in different terms): If it was the playoffs, I’d be playing. Bynum’s “beans on the table” comment is something new and appreciated.
Doug Collins: “I just see he comes in and he’s got the little wrap and the brace on,” said Collins of Bynum’s right knee attire. “He’s out on the floor and he’s spinning and doing some stuff, doing some of the things he couldn’t do before. Plus, I see it in his personality, he’s happier. I think he senses he’s getting closer to play. Anybody that’s ever been injured, especially going to a new team where so much is expected, you want to get out there and play. It’s a downer. He’s worked his tail off. When he’s not watching he’s either doing something on the elliptical or in the weight room working and doing something. You can just sense that he’s feeling better. That’s a positive sign.” – 10/9/12
DWN: Collins continues to remain update and optimistic. After all, it’s still a few weeks from opening tip at this point. As the season goes on, you can feel this hopefulness slipping away not just in Collins’s tone, but also in his empathy towards Bynum.
Doug Collins: “If Andrew misses some games, we’ve got to be prepared to win some games without him,” Collins said prior to Saturday’s game. “Obviously, when he’s out there, our team is going to be a lot different.” – 10/14/12
Doug Collins: “Andrew’s doing well,” Collins said Monday before the Sixers improved their preseason record to 2-1 with a 107-75 victory over Boston at the Wells Fargo Center. “He’s progressing and on track to where I think he hoped he would be at this time. Obviously, the next step for him is getting running and weight-bearing. A lot of that is going to be how he responds to increased activity,” Collins said when asked if Bynum would be ready for the start of the season. “I know how important the home opener is, but we’re not going to do anything silly and have another setback where it costs you and now you have to miss those kinds of games.” – 10/17/12
DWN: I like how Collins is setting and managing expectations regarding Bynum. He’s saying the right things and most importantly, it feels like he’s being honest with the media, fans and himself.
Andrew Bynum: “I think pain and swelling are indications of what’s going on,” Bynum said. “I don’t feel pressure, but psychologically it stinks. It’s tough. I want to come in and help out.” – 10/25/12
Tom DiLeo: “He is improving,” DiLeo said. “It’s nothing new. It’s just not completely healed. It’s our understanding that when this heals, it will be over.” – 10/25/12
Doug Collins: “I have no idea,” Collins said. “It’s all hypothetical. We’re not going to look over at (Bynum as) a lifeline. If this team feels like we can’t win without him, we won’t win.” Collins also said he’s “sure Andrew is incredibly disappointed. When you’re hurt and can’t play, it’s no fun. I’m sure he wants to be out here as much as anybody.” – 10/25/12
DWN: It’s been a slow progression regarding the comments. Collins had previously communicated that he might miss games and now DiLeo’s including the qualifier, “it’s our understanding” which opens the door for things to change. Collins’s comments on the 25th introduce the possibly of the unknown whereas just eight days previous, it was a different diagnosis.
Tom DiLeo: “He’s improving, but it’s still the same situation…” – 11/6/12
NBA.com: Andrew received a fresh MRI and was seen again by Dr. Altchek this past week on Monday, November 5. At that evaluation, Dr. Altcheck extended Andrew’s return date for a second time by an additional three weeks. – 11/6/12
Brian Windhorst (ESPN): Sixers fear Andrew Bynum has done additional damage to his knees by bowling recently, multiple sources told ESPN. Story link coming. – 11/17/12
Brian Windhorst: Andrew Bynum confirms he hurt his knee bowling. Said it swelled up after he hit lanes. – 11/18/12 (date of bowling incident was 11/10)
DWN: If the mood had been dimming the previous couple weeks, the bowling incident officially cast a pall over the Sixers and Bynum in particular. Up to this point, stories relating to his knee condition(s) were primarily Philadelphia-based sources and were mostly sympathetic to his situation. ESPN gets a hold if this oddball piece that reveals Bynum to be somewhat careless and suddenly it’s not just Philadelphia that has an opinion on him, but sports fans across the country.
Tom DiLeo: “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.” – 11/21/12
Tom DiLeo: “We’re anticipating he’ll be back at some point,” DiLeo said. “We hope he will be back. We have plans for the future if he is not back with us, but we are anticipating this is a short-term thing. We want to plan on him for the long term.” DiLeo’s primary message during the nine-minute session with the media was to say the Dec. 10 target date for Bynum to return to basketball-related activities is off, he is out “indefinitely” and there is no timetable for Bynum’s return. “We don’t know when he’ll be back,” DiLeo said. “Only Andrew can answer that question.” – 11/25/12
DWN: Within a week of ESPN breaking the bowling story, Bynum’s status has become increasingly bleak. DiLeo’s changed the perspective to “long term” and “big picture” and in the same sentence makes the leap from “anticipating” to “hope.” The cherry on top though is the final comment that “only Andrew” can answer about when he’ll be back. These are statements that, to my untrained public relations eye, are completely misplaced. By putting the responsibility of insight into this mysterious injury on the player, DiLeo is (whether intentionally or not) implying Bynum either knows when he can return (and isn’t sharing) or is able to return and is choosing not to.
Tom DiLeo: “At the time of the trade we had four doctors look at his MRI. We knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise type player. We took that risk,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo told reporters. “His knees now and the MRIs are not the same. It’s a different type situation. But we are still looking at big picture and long term. We’re hopeful that after this situation heals we can get him back on the court and he’s got a future here.” – 12/6/12
DWN: Neither Collins or Bynum has commented to the media since 10/25/12. DiLeo’s acting as the mouthpiece and attempting to explain that Bynum’s knees have changed since August. A statement that will be reinforced later on in March by Sixers CEO Adam Aron.
Andrew Bynum: “My left knee is still really sore, right knee is actually better, so that’s good,” said Bynum, who last spoke with the media on Nov. 25. “It’s just pain, just by walking around. Worst case scenario it’s another month.” Asked if he was going to get an MRI (or two) at that time, Bynum said: “Probably so, I’m not sure yet but probably. There’s nothing I can really do about it. It’s arthritis in the knees, cartilage is missing so that’s not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, in the next 3 to 5 years maybe there’s something out there that really does help, but for right now it’s really just a waiting game. If this was the Finals and it could be potentially the end, I’d be helping this team win because I think that’s a serious time and you want to be a part of that. But other than that I don’t think, especially right now, it would be a good time to risk anything. Why risk it when you have time to come back and be 100 percent? My right knee is feeling really, really good. I would definitely test it on the right side. I think it’s more evidence that my knees weren’t right if they got hurt playing because it’s definitely going to happen if I play basketball [right now].” – 12/10/12
Tom DiLeo: Asked about the progress of Andrew Bynum before the game, Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said there really is no update and that Bynum is progressing from his knee issues. Asked if Bynum was past the first of the six stages of progress toward recovery, DiLeo said yes but was very vague as to what that means. There probably will be an update when the team returns from its road trip next week. – 1/2/13
DWN: We’re into the new year and there aren’t any updates. Bynum’s comments in December referred to arthritis and missing cartilage and speculated on the potential for cartilage regeneration in the future. Then a few weeks later, reporters and DiLeo are discussing “six stages of … recovery” while simultaneously being described as “vague.” There’s a clear frustration on Philadelphia’s part and it’s unclear how much is directed at Bynum and how much is directed at the situation itself. Keep in mind, Bynum’s bowling excursion didn’t help anything and he’s still making statements like “If this was the Finals … “ and implying that he could play. Given that his contract expires at the end of the season, this is a terrible situation for Philly. On the one hand, you want your potential star big man to take his time and not damage his knees further. On the other, you’re looking at a potential scenario where you traded away an All-Star for an injured player who you’re paying $16.5 million this season just to rehab, potentially get healthy and sign with another team the following season.
Andrew Bynum: “It’s definitely moving in a positive direction,” Bynum, who has been out with bone bruises and swelling cartilage, said. “I’m feeling better every day. I’m back to the weights and on the treadmill and I should be running here soon.” – 1/7/13
Andrew Bynum: “I have no idea exactly, I just want to get back,” Bynum said Monday. “I think, I’m hoping around the all-star break. That’s what I’m hoping. I have no idea exactly when I’ll be back. It’s minimal,” Bynum said. “It’s not hurting.” – 1/14/13
Doug Collins: “All you want is a chance, you want hope. You are starting to get hope again.” – 1/18/13
DWN: It’s unclear if Collins’s comments on 1/18/13 are motivated by Bynum’s public (and likely private) comments from a few days previous. But Collins’ use of “hope” feels genuine while Bynum’s use is closer to our daily usage of the word which is more absentminded without actual feeling behind it. As we progress into the spring, you start to wonder about the honesty and intent of Bynum’s comments. Does he really think he’s coming back or is he just trying to please people or even play them? Let’s get going here.
Andrew Bynum: “It’s going pretty good. I shot around at shoot-around (Monday morning) with the guys so I’m getting a bit better on the court. If the treadmill would stop breaking down I would be able to do a little bit more, but I’m going well. It’s like every 3 days or so it needs service, so I don’t know. I’ve been involved a little bit in practice just shooting around with the guys and stuff like that. My knees feel good and I’m not feeling any pain so this is all good and I just want to keep it going.” – 1/21/13
Tom DiLeo: “We’re hoping for the first of February for practice,” DiLeo said. “But we have to just wait and see how it goes. He’s done a lot of work, but he hasn’t had to go hard and stop and start. That will be important.” – 1/29/13
Michael Curry (Philly assistant coach): “It’s exciting. You give up a lot to get him, and when he’s healthy and on the court, he’s one heck of a player,” said associate head coach Michael Curry, who ran practice Sunday in place of an ailing Doug Collins. “The fact that his level of activity has picked up and he’s here working three hours or so, you’re going to get excited. You start to get ready for the next phase, so we know what kind of sets we want to run and what kind of personnel we want on the court with him.” – 1/29/13
DWN: I like Curry’s comments here. He’s articulating something that I imagine the front office, Collins, Sixers players and Philly fans feel, but the difference is that Collins’s and DiLeo’s jobs could be on the line with this. These guys are excited too, but I think they have more riding on Bynum than Curry does. I don’t say this to imply Curry’s just along for the ride in Philadelphia, but rather to point out that any frustration I might be reading into regarding Collins and DiLeo is likely a justified or at least understandable frustration. This can’t be fun …
Andrew Bynum: “February is the target, I guess, My doctor said it’s just a fear of a big bone bruise, so I have to nurse it all the way back up to playable conditions without pain or a setback. They (the injections) didn’t really help that much,” Bynum said. “My right knee feels phenomenal and the left knee still feels some of that stuff a bit. It was an attempt to ease the pain a bit, but nothing has really changed that much.” – 2/4/13
Tom DiLeo: “When he practices, bangs, jumps, moves — that’s really the most critical part,” DiLeo said on the court prior to
Wednesday’s game against the Pacers. “We’ll just have to see how he reacts during that phase.” DiLeo denied that he told reporters he expected Bynum to practice this week and is unsure when Bynum will be able to work out with the team. “I never said he would practice with us the first week of February,” DiLeo said. “I said he would increase his basketball activities the first week of February. I don’t know where that came from.” – 2/7/13
Andrew Bynum: “I’m not really optimistic. When I get on the court, that’s when I’ll be ready. I’m trying as hard as I can. It would suck to play through pain, but sometimes you have to.” – 2/11/13
Dough Collins: “The question’s going to be, at some point and time, of him getting out there. Right now, he has not done anything with contact.” – 2/18/13
DWN: I can’t tell if it’s just from me going through this material so many times or if it’s equally evident in the quotes and the repetition, but there’s sadness (Bynum), frustration (DiLeo), helplessness (Collins) and desperation (Holiday) in these words and by mid-February it had only gotten worse. The hope in January and February comes off as nothing but a tease. How could you not presume the worst at this point?
Andrew Bynum: “Yeah, [I’m 100 percent sure I’ll play this year],” Bynum said. “I don’t see any surgeries and no doctor has told me I need them. I think I just have to grind up the cartilage that’s loose and I’ll feel better, so that’s what we’re working on doing. I think it’s just dealing with it, to be honest. Without some type of intervention or surgery it’s just dealing with it.” – 2/19/13
Doug Collins: “He’s really the only one who knows. Everyone else is just speculating,” Collins said. “But I think he’s feeling better and I think he knows that at some point he’s going to play through pain. I talked to him this morning and told him that once you’ve been around the NBA for a while and have had some injuries, very rarely do you feel great. You always have some aches and pains. But I think he can compete and do well.” – 2/19/13
DWN: Those last two comments feel like indirect communication; almost as if Collins and Bynum are sitting a room with a therapist that happens to have a tablet and a Twitter account with millions of followers. Doug and Drew won’t speak directly to each other, but by opening up to the therapist, they open up to the whole world.
Doug Collins: “He looked like a guy who hadn’t played in nine months,” Collins said. “I don’t think any bells and whistles should be sent off that he’s close to playing. Collins said Bynum would inform them of any future updates, as he has during the entire process. You should talk to him,” Collins said. “I don’t want to be the messenger because they shoot messengers.” – 2/24/13
DWN: For starters, Bynum informing the team of updates seems like the wrong direction for the communication to flow, but by allowing Bynum’s personal orthopedic doctor to run the show, the Sixers have somewhat hamstrung themselves. Beyond that, once again we see Philly going out of their way to put the onus on Bynum—not on Bynum’s knee, not on Bynum’s doctor, but directly on him. Money absolutely matters, but all things being equal, I’d guess Bynum will remember the lines the Philadelphia brass has drawn in the sand.
Doug Collins: “He played the five-on-zero Friday,” Collins said. “I saw him yesterday and he still hadn’t been able to do anything yet. I didn’t ask him [about any pain]. I just had a chance to visit with him a little bit. I know it is tough on him. He wants to play. We traded for him to come in here and play and he hasn’t been able to and that is hard. Hard on him and hard on everyone, and so I feel badly. For us, it is a little different. We traded three guys to get a guy who hasn’t played all year,” he said. “The Bulls have a player that is injured, but he has been here the whole time. Our guy came in, so the dynamics are different. We gave up a lot in that trade and that has been tough.” – 2/28/13
Andrew Bynum: That’s true, I don’t want to play in pain,” the Sixers center said. Bynum then reiterated the fact that he doesn’t care about the public perception of that: “I’m 25. It’s my life. They just grew cartilage in a petri dish, science is looking at it,” Bynum stated, possibly alluding to the future creation of cartilage. “Doctors are looking at it, they’re going to come up with something.” – 3/1/13
Andrew Bynum: “Now it’s getting a little late, so I really don’t know,” Bynum said when asked if he were considering sitting out the final two months of the 76ers season. “I played in one scrimmage and [I have] a four- to five-day setback,” Bynum said of his latest setback. Bynum added that he is “just getting treatment and trying to push the fluid out” of his knee. – 3/1/13
DWN: On 2/19, Bynum was 100% sure he’d play this season and over the course of less than two weeks, he’s revisiting his “cartilage in a petri dish” idea, taking a defensive stance (“I’m 25. It’s my life.”), and finally putting it out there that he may not play.
Doug Collins: “During this period of time, he’s not made any progress, and that’s obviously very concerning,” Collins said. “His concern that he was moving forward and he got to a point with the swelling where he’s making no progress.” – 3/1/13
Adam Aron (Philly CEO): “This is a move that should have worked,” Aron said. “But, unfortunately, he got an injury in September and it’s been compounded since, post-trade and we haven’t seen a day. The fans hopes were justifiably high that the Sixers had made a move, a bold move, that would catapult us back into the top teams in the NBA. It hasn’t worked. I can’t get into his exact medical condition,” Aron said. “But I can say this, which is obvious to all of us: All season long he’s had bone bruise issues. He’s had cartilage problems. It’s March. He’s still not playing. He hasn’t played basketball since last May. Clearly, Andrew is dealing with some knee problems that have prevented him from playing in the NBA. Aron said “four doctors cleared the trade in August, and six doctors have actively been treating him and examining him all year long.” The Sixers’ CEO insisted that the team, until now, was confident Bynum would play this season.
“We certainly thought he was going to play in August,” Aron said. “That’s why we made the trade. Even in early October, we thought he would play on opening night. Then there was a delay. Then there was [another] delay. Even when we announced that he was out indefinitely, inside the team we thought he would play in January or February. He himself, in February, said he would play in February. But here we are in March and the team is disappointed. Our fan base is disappointed. And that’s the story of the season. Right now, none of us really know where Andrew Bynum will be in four days or four weeks, let alone in four years.” – 3/4/13
Tom DiLeo: “I think we’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” DiLeo said Tuesday, before the Sixers hosted the Boston Celtics. “So I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew basically will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information. Like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab, see how that goes. There’s an option of washing it, see how that goes.” – 3/6/13
Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics coach): “He’s (Collins) a friend, so I don’t want my friends to do poorly, unless it’s against me,” Rivers said. “It’s very similar situation to one I had with Grant Hill (in Orlando). It’s tough because your guys see him practicing every day. And with Grant, he played seven games that one year (four, in 2000-01). Each game, he was going to play and didn’t play. And this is the week, next week, he’s going to play in. You just felt like you were always caught in limbo. The thing with Doug can be tougher at times because with Grant, we’re small, we’re athletic and we’re going to play the same style. With Andrew, you’re going to change some of the way you play when he comes back. It’s just hard for everyone. We endured it in Orlando, we got through it, but it was no fun.” – 3/6/13
DWN: I was glad to come across that Rivers quote as Grant Hill’s a great example of a worst-case-scenario for Bynum. Hill ended getting huge paydays and is likely set for life in terms of finances, but when Bynum thinks about returning this season to a team that has zero chance of winning the NBA Championship, I wonder how much Grant Hill’s situation or the potential for a Grant Hill situation weighs on his young mind.
At the time I write this, it’s March 12th, 2013; six days after the latest official update has been released and Bynum has yet to suit up in a Sixers uniform. I feel for both sides here and I get the frustration in as much as I’m able as a third party observer with no skin in this game. I get both sides and believe there’s a conflict of goals here. With the exception of proving he’s healthy and can play, Bynum has little-to-no incentive to return this season and risk further injury prior to entering an off-season without a contract. As I mentioned above, Philadelphia’s in a terrible position. Gone are Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a future first round pick. In return is nothing but stress and frustration. And throughout this past eight months, even in public comments you can feel the rising and falling emotions, the expectations, confusion and resentment. If this is what’s going on in public, you can fairly easily assume what’s going on behind closed doors—my guess would be the Sixers have at least had discussions around the “injury in September” (Aron, 3/4/13), the potential to get a recoup lost expenses, the bowling incident, the pre-trade MRIs, etc. I don’t see any of the topics coming out of spite (even if it has possibly become personal on some level), but more out of a sense of desperation. You hear this most in DiLeo’s and Aron’s comments.
For the present, there are no winners. Just question marks and an unknown, fearful future for Andrew Bynum, Doug Collins, Tom DiLeo, Jrue Holiday, Michael Curry, Adam Aron and the Philadelphia faithful.