By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Adam Aron has said it, Tony DiLeo has said it, and fans have said it. The Sixers will have a big decision to make after this season ends. A seven foot tall decision named Andrew Bynum.

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Bynum has missed the entire 2012-13 season so far with various knee ailments, and it now looks like he will not play a game this year. Not only that, there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, save for possible arthroscopic surgery to clean up loose cartilage. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the season, and it’s likely, even with his health issues, that there will be at least one team willing to offer him a big contract. The Sixers have to decide if they’re going to be one of teams willing to offer Bynum a deal.

“Because of the price that they paid to get him, they’re almost compelled to find a way to bring him back,” NBA Insider Ric Bucher told 94WIP’s Marc Farzetta. “Now, would I give him the max deal? I don’t see how I could do that without certain contingencies. Looking at the market, and this is what a lot of people have done, looking at the market and saying what is it that he can get and you know what, we’ll top that because we have the where with all to do that—to keep him. Now, he and his agent may be offended that you take that approach and maybe go some place else, if the difference is not significant enough.”

The Sixers do have Bynum’s “Bird Rights,” meaning that they can give Bynum a bigger raise than any other team, as well as a five-year contract rather than the four-year deal another team can offer him. The biggest contract the Sixers can offer Bynum is for five years, and in the neighborhood of $100 million.

“The bigger problem is, you give a max contract to a guy that you’re not sure is going to be playing for you down the line, or you’re not sure how long he is going to be playing for you down the line, particularly under this collective bargaining agreement with it’s repeater tax and with its heightened luxury tax,” Bucher said. “Teams as is, are going to be going to a system or a blueprint where you are paying one or two guys the maximum and the rest are going to be close to the minimum. That is what the GM’s that I’ve talked to are anticipating under this new deal. So you would essentially be investing into Andrew Bynum as one of your cornerstone players. Based on his history, based on what we’ve seen—because honestly I feel as if he could possibly play, he would be because this potentially could be costing him a lot of money. If he literally can not play even when it is in his best interest, it would have to inform me that this is a questionable bet to hitch my wagon to, the way I am going to have to under this new collective bargaining agreement.”

The heightened luxury tax is the reason that the Oklahoma City Thunder traded star shooting guard James Harden, and the reason the Knicks and Bulls weren’t able to re-sign Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, respectively. Both contracts had “poison pill” third years that would have put their former teams far above the luxury tax. It’s also one of the reasons there’s doubt that the Miami Heat can keep their big three of James, Wade and Bosh together beyond their current contracts.

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The biggest contracts the Sixers have on the books are Jrue Holiday’s, at about $11 million per year, Thaddeus Young, at about $10 million per year, and Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, each at about $6.5 million next year. Both Turner and Hawes’ deals are off the books after next year, though the Sixers will have restricted free agency right to match any deal for Turner, assuming they tender him a one-year deal worth about $8 million.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of Bynum’s injury, it’s hard to really know how bad his situation is, and will be in the future.

You can have all of the MRI’s and X-rays—it still can’t tell you everything clearly that’s going on inside the body, and most professional athletes, professional basketball players—it’s not as if their ankles or their knees look to be in perfect in health,” Bucher said.  “You can take Kobe Bryant, or any number of players who are playing and you’d look at it and go, it doesn’t look too much different than the way Andrew Bynum’s does. It’s a matter of what happens when they begin to grind on those knees and that’s the case with Bynum. His knees are in a condition where, when he begins to put a lot of stress on them in terms of conditioning and everything else, they heat up. That’s the challenge that they face. The other problem, which I don’t know if it’s in this case, but certainly it is his reputation that Andrew has never been very diligent and focused about his rehabilitation and being very specific and detailed in exactly what he’s supposed to do be doing.”

The Sixers have said they got the go-ahead from four different doctors about Bynum’s condition before they finalized the trade.

“Teams are at their discretion [with injured players] and it doesn’t have to be four doctors [that examines a player]. It could be eight doctors, it could be two doctors, it’s whatever they choose to do. Now, I do think this is something that the 76ers really wanted—they saw an opportunity to get a big man and they saw how Andrew Bynum might fit into the big equation. I would gather that it is something that they really wanted to see happen,” Bucher said. “We know guys in the league who are playing right now without any cartilage in their knees. You have a guy like Dejuan Blair who doesn’t have any anterior ligaments in his knees. Seems almost impossible that a guy would be able to play with that, yet he has.”

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