PHILADELPHIA — While the rest of his teammates concluded practice on the basketball court Thursday, Andrew Bynum spent most of his afternoon in a therapy pool on the campus of Temple University.
As the rest of Bynum’s teammates put on hats and jackets and trudged outside into a misty rain, team physical therapist George Sibel packed Bynum’s knees in ice and attached electrodes to his thighs. For 25 minutes, Bynum received a “recovery” massage that makes his legs quiver rhythmically and stimulates blood flow through those troublesome knees.
This is Bynum’s new reality. He should be entering his prime years of basketball, instead he has contemplated walking away from it all.
“I’m a shell of myself on the court right now,” a melancholy Bynum said Thursday after practice. “I’m struggling mentally. I’m trying.”
This was supposed to be the day the Philadelphia media came after Bynum for all that went wrong last year. The trade that sent him from the Los Angeles Lakers to the 76ers ultimately wrecked the franchise and ignited a massive roster rebuild.
Yet in the midst of answering questions about Philadelphia fans and how he views his brief time here, Bynum was the most pessimistic he has been since signing with the Cavs over the summer.
He admitted to thoughts of retirement after last season and even still now. He is frustrated with the recurring pain in his knees, with the fact he can no longer do the things he used to on a basketball court. Then he conceded he has lost his joy for the game of basketball, and he’s still searching to rediscover it.
There is no guarantee he ever will. Even more startling for the Cavs, no one knows how long he’ll spend searching for it.
“It was a thought, it was a serious thought. Still is,” Bynum said regarding retirement. “At the moment, it’s tough to enjoy the game because of how limited I am physically. I’m still sort of working through that.”
Pressed on whether or not he is still mulling retirement, Bynum said, “Yeah, every now and again.”
Bynum was dismissive about facing a hostile crowd at Wells Fargo Arena. He has much more important concerns, such as resuscitating a career that made him an All-Star and two-time champion with the Lakers.
He is averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in limited time with the Cavs. He only played about 14 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a decrease from the 19 minutes he played Monday.
Cavs coach Mike Brown said he had to limit Bynum’s minutes Wednesday because he overextended him Monday.
Brown said he hasn’t had any retirement discussions with Bynum and still believes he can be an impact player in this league. He reiterated Thursday the long-term plan is to get Bynum into the starting lineup, although there’s no timetable for when that will happen.
“All I’ve felt is a lot of positive vibes,” Brown said. “He’s been working his tail off, trying to help his teammates.”
Bynum’s goals for this season are simple: Play without pain and rediscover the joy for the game. He conceded earlier this week the explosiveness he once enjoyed is gone and likely never to return.
He can’t really jump or slide right now, which is changing the way he must play the game.
“Battling pain is annoying,” he said. “I’m not able to do the things I used to be able to do and it’s frustrating.
“I feel like I can still be a double-double guy in this league, but it’s just going to take some modifications to my game and whether or not I want to accept the challenge and do that.”