Don't compare Bynum to Jeff Ruland ... yet
Bynum's recent left knee injury prolongs his absence from the lineup. (US Presswire)
To view this site, you need to have Flash Player 9.0.115 or later installed. Click here to get the latest Flash player.
Twenty-six years ago it was a foot and not a knee that spoiled a Sixers big man and gave reams of fodder to sporting press in Philadelphia.
Though the team had Charles Barkley rumbling into his prime and Julius Erving in his final season, the 1986-87 season ended with barely a whimper in the first round of the playoffs. Those Sixers were a doughnut team that was moving into a transitional period. There were a few decent seasons left and some short-lived playoff runs, but for the most part the glory days were gone.
Maybe it all started with one bad step.
Whatever it was, Jeff Ruland’s brittle foot was in the middle of it.
Ruland, of course, had the misfortune of getting injured before joining a team in Philadelphia. As a result, the fans and media didn't get a chance to see what he could do. In some sense, the same could be said for Danny Tartabull and Freddy Garcia in following years.
And now maybe even Andrew Bynum?
To be fair, it wasn’t Ruland’s fault. A first-round pick out of Iona in 1980, Ruland was hulking presence in the middle for the post-Wes Unseld/Elvin Hayes Washington Bullets. In his first four seasons with the Bullets, Ruland, a former assistant coach with the Sixers and currently the head coach for Division II power University of the District of Columbia, led the league in minutes once and rated in the top 10 in foul shots, rebounds and field goal percentage. He went to an All-Star Game and had it not been for Buck Williams and Isiah Thomas, he might have been the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1981.
But midway through his fourth season with the Bullets, Ruland broke his foot and played in just 37 games. The next season (1985-86), lingering foot and knee trouble limited Ruland to just 30 games for the Bullets before the big trade.
On draft day in June of 1986, the 76ers traded away the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (which was five-time All-Star Brad Daugherty) to Cleveland for Roy Hinson and then shipped away Moses Malone and Terry Catledge for Cliff Robinson and Ruland.
Actually, the Sixers got just Cliff Robinson in the Malone/Catledge trade because Ruland played just five games during the 1986-87 season before the injuries forced him to retire.
Just like that and the bruising big man was washed up at 28.
Four years later Ruland attempted a comeback with the Sixers, but that lasted just 13 games before a bizarre Achilles injury outside the Boston Garden involving a luggage cart and a Celtics employee ended his return.
Apparently, Ruland just wasn’t meant to play for the Sixers.
Could history be repeating itself two decades later?
Man, the Sixers hope not.
Certainly the circumstances are different with All-Star Andrew Bynum than they were with Ruland. Bynum, it was announced on Friday, had a setback with his recovery from a bone bruise in his knee (see story)
. As it turns out, Bynum now has a bone bruise in both knees to go along with some swelling. Though Bynum and the Sixers’ brass haven’t altered the center’s timeframe to return to practice on Dec. 10, it doesn’t seem rational. After all, according to general manager Tony DiLeo, Bynum will be “re-evaluated” in mid-December and likely given yet another MRI exam.
“Plain and simple, we’re trying to rehab his knees so they’re healthy, that he can get out and play like he did last season. That’s our goal,” DiLeo said. “When he’s ready – and it’s hard to predict when he will be ready — the main concern is Andrew’s health. The main concern is big picture. We want to have a long relationship with him, and that’s our reason for doing this.”
At some point this season Bynum will return — that much you can count on. With free agency looming, Bynum will want to prove to the Sixers and to teams around the league that he can get up and down the court. There was a historical precedent for this with the Sixers, as well. Before the 2008-09 season, the oft-injured Elton Brand signed with the Sixers for the “Philly Max,” even though he played just eight games the previous year and was recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
Though Brand is playing for Dallas this season, he’s still cashing checks on the deal he signed with the Sixers.
“It’s frustrating,” Bynum said before Friday night’s game against the Jazz at the Wells Fargo Center. “This is an issue that’s going to take time to resolve. There’s no procedure or anything that can be done. It’s just time.”
Time is a rare luxury in sports. And ultimately, losing Bynum is a bigger hit to this Sixers’ team than it was when Ruland couldn’t play. For one thing, Ruland wasn’t expected to be the main piece of the team when he arrived to replace Moses. Plus, Ruland played in a different era of the NBA where the economics weren’t as restricting. For his five games of the 1986-87 season, Ruland got $860,000 – not a small chunk of change, but mere tip money in the modern NBA.
Meanwhile, Bynum is not only the centerpiece of the revamped Sixers’ roster filled with up-and-comers, he’s actually what the organization wants to build the franchise around. At age 25, Bynum is nowhere close to his prime and he already has a pair of championship rings and is regarded as the best low-post presence in the game.
“I don’t know what’s going on. The doctors are pretty much saying we’re at a weakened cartilage state, and kind of wait, I guess,” Bynum said. “They’re not giving me anything real definite. I’ve just got to wait for the cartilage to get stronger. That’s pretty much what’s going on.”
Yes, it’s much too early to know if Bynum’s time as a Sixer will mirror Ruland’s. Besides, sports medicine, training and rehabilitation have advanced light years since Ruland broke his foot in the mid-1980s.
“The whole plan is to get him healthy, get him out there when he’s ready,” DiLeo said. “We think we have a good team now, and when he’s ready to get out there, we think we’ll have a better team.”
Indeed, Andrew Bynum has the rare talent that can transform an NBA team...
But that’s not helping the Sixers right now.E-mail John Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org