The Sixers’ season hit its absolute nadir this Tuesday, with the team’s double-digit home loss to the arguably league-worst (and almost certainly league-least-talented) Orlando Magic, which was followed by 11 minutes of Doug Collins laying his team to waste while wearing the grin of a man desperately trying to disassociate himself from his situation. The press conference was severe enough that we got “The Sixers are really bad and it’s actually kinda your fault Doug Collins” type columns from both Grantland and ESPN proper, and just about every Sixers writer in the country raced to their Twitter account to be the first to vehemently agree.
To make matters worse, the Sixers played on national TV last night. Every NBA season, there’s one or two teams whose over-ambitious preseason projection gets them an uncomfortable number of nationally televised games, and this year, it appears to be the Sixers, who lost to the Bulls last night in a 93-82 loss that was far more embarrassing than the final score would indicate. A sampling of representative Sixer blogger tweets:
Sarah McLachlan African child commercials…#thingsbetterthensixersbasketball
— Jeff McMenamin (@SixersBlog) March 1, 2013
Seriously I’ve seen enough of Turner arguing calls for five lifetimes. Why am I doing this to myself. Spike go to bed.
— Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) March 1, 2013
*start button* “Are you sure you want to sim the remainder of the regular season?” #Sixers
— Liberty Ballers (@Philly76ersBlog) March 1, 2013
We’re on TNT against the Celtics again next week, by the way.
So where was Bynum through all of this? Well, if you have the answer to that, please do let Coach Collins and GM Tony DiLeo know, since they don’t seem to have a clue. Bynum was supposed to talk to the press before the Magic game, but he never materialized, turning out to never even have been in the building. Or maybe he was. Or maybe there is no Bynum. Or maybe there was no building? Asked about Bynum’s absence in his now-infamous postgame presser, Collins gave an incredulous, “Am I My Bynum’s Keeper?” type response, as if you were asking him about one of his grown sons that he’d long since stopped attempting to answer for. My guess is that any questions Collins is asked about Bynum for the rest of the season will be answered with a frustrated, mildly accusatory, “You’ll have to ask him that.”
It’s hard to get too mad at Collins for getting publicly flustered at the Andrew Bynum experience, since it’s all pretty mild compared to what we’ve all gone through personally as fans. It’s getting late early in this here NBA season, and though the Sixers have long since said bye-bye to the prospect of postseason relevance, it’s not too late for Bynum to throw us a late-season bone — potentially even a parting gift — by suiting up and playing for 10-15 games, giving us the slightest glimpse of what could have been. And then once you consider the possibility of that, the wheels start turning, and you think of Bynum playing alongside a still potential-laden Sixers core, and with a fairly decent draft pick to boot earned in the process … maybe it doesn’t have to be a completely lost season?
But looking at the reality, it’s bleak, and just getting bleaker. Did you know that Andrew Bynum actually practiced in a 5-on-5 with the Sixers last Friday? This bombshell of a revelation for Sixers fans was reported under cover of early Saturday morning, as if released for minimum potential impact, as if they didn’t want the information to get anyone’s hopes up. The 5-on-5 even occurred with no reporters in the building, seemingly so nobody would be able to report firsthand how Bynum looked in game action. Asked about it afterwards, Collins continued to downplay expectations, saying “He looked like a guy who had not played in nine months … I don’t think that any bells and whistles should be set off right now that he’s close to playing.” God forbid.
The fact that Bynum has basically gone off the grid since that practice — which also might not have ever happened, who even knows — does not appear to be a good sign. Meanwhile, the Sixers have kept consistent with their practice of keeping the fans totally in the dark about his status and progress, seemingly aware that if we knew how bad the situation really was, we’d probably lose our one remaining reason to give a s–t about the rest of the season. Hell, maybe we should be grateful to them for doing so. Otherwise, all we’d be left with is rolling our eyes at Evan Turner jumpers and Spencer Hawes boxouts, while wondering why the hell Collins keeps playing replacement-level vet Damien Wilkins over rookie Arnett Moultrie, with Moultrie seeming to earn fewer minutes the better he plays.
It’s hard to even know what to hope for with Bynum anymore. How badly do we want him to come back and play those last dozen or so games? Is it worth it if he looks slow and out of shape and kinda sucks? Do we want to know how bad this guy is right now before we potentially sign him to a max contract? Do we want to sign him to that contract anyway? There are no right answers at this point, and as much nonsense as the TNT guys spewed about Bynum’s situation over the course of their halftime program, Kenny Smith nailed it when he characterized the Sixers as “stuck.” The dream of Bynum is still all we really have, and lacking a better option, that’s what we’ll roll with for now.
Another moment of semi-revelation for me came during the broadcast last night, when announcers Kevin Harlan and Greg Anthony (who, ugh, by the way) mentioned the, um, personality difficulties that also went along with Bynum, particularly during his last season in Los Angeles. These things, while very real concerns at one time, have become of such secondary importance with Bynum at this point that to address them as a consideration seemed laughable. He could hold a press conference tomorrow where he read long passages from “Mein Kampf” and ranted at length about how “St. Anger” was the best Metallica album, and as long as he ended it by saying that he’d be returning to the lineup by mid-March, we’d all be pretty cool with it. There is no such thing as “personality concerns” in a league as talent-dependent as the NBA, which is why this man might end up being $100 million richer after next offseason.
At the very least, the drama with Bynum is weirder and more interesting (though no less soul-crushing) than the drama with Collins. He may be the most extreme example ever floated of the “You can’t fire the players” maxim, but if only one of these guys is here next year — and there’s no way both will be — I’d still rather it be a constantly sidelined, fashion-bored Andrew Bynum then an increasingly appalled, Call-Me-Old-Fashioned-spouting Doug Collins.
In the meantime, can’t wait to see everyone in Boston on TNT Tuesday night! Bynum will be available for questions beforehand, unless he isn’t, or unless he’s dead, or unless he never even existed in the first place.