WELL, AT LEAST now we know that forlorn Sixers center Andrew Bynum wants to play. He said so Monday night during the latest update that told us nothing about a timetable for the inert big man's long-awaited debut as a Sixer.

Bynum, however, did say that if the games the Sixers were playing right now truly mattered, he'd be out there putting his aching knees on the line.

"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," Bynum said. "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?"

I'm not sure how to digest what Bynum said. The logical side of me knows that Bynum is absolutely right to sit out until his injury-prone knees are healthy enough to the point where playing does not cause further aggravation. It wouldn't do Bynum or the Sixers any good to have him play three games and then have to sit out five.

Still, Bynum's easy dismissal of the current part of the NBA season irked me. His nonchalant phrasing was a clear indication that he has little comprehension of the plight the Sixers find themselves in because he's not out there.

Bynum likely views the Sixers' 12-9 record and sixth-place standing in the Eastern Conference as no big deal because ultimately they hold a playoff spot and can then take it from there.

To that I would say, "Hey 'Drew, you're not in Los Angeles anymore."

The Sixers aren't a team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace - a squad that could take the regular season at its own pace and then ramp it up for the playoffs.

Bynum has had it good. He won two NBA championships and made a third Finals in three of his first five seasons. He has little concept of the dogfight the Sixers annually go through simply to slide their way into playoff position.

The Sixers have made the playoffs four times since Bynum's rookie season in 2005-06. They've never been higher than a sixth seed. Until last season, the Sixers' recent postseason history has seen them overmatched against a top-three seed and getting smoked in the first round.

The regular season matters to teams like the Sixers. Building the confidence that they can win is a seasonlong endeavor and playoff-positioning is vital. The plain truth is that the Sixers need to be a top three seed to have any shot of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.

I assume Bynum would also consider that "a serious" time and give it a go.

I like this Sixers team more than any in the past 10 years. I love the development shown by Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. I love the "true" veteran leadership provided by Jason Richardson. Still, I'm a realist. I know the Sixers as currently constructed, with paper-tiger toughness in the frontcourt, cannot make a sustained playoff run if it has to start with a seven-game series against the higher-seeded Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics.

Without a dominant big man, this team does not have enough options or versatility to take out one of the top teams in the East over seven games - particularly the reigning world champion Heat. Many of the names have changed, but without Bynum anchoring down the middle, this is basically the same team that finished 35-31 last season and got the eighth seed.

Without Bynum as a 7-foot difference-maker, it is the same team that needed Chicago's Derrick Rose to go down with a knee injury to advance out of the first round.

Without Bynum being a dominant post presence for whom opponents have to game-plan, this is the same team that played gamely but ultimately lost at Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

With Bynum healthy and being the All-Star center they traded for, the Sixers would be a legitimate threat to win the Atlantic Division and get one of the top two seeds in the East. Without him, they are a team that can beat the Celtics on Friday and then lose to the Celtics by 13 on Saturday.

Without Bynum, the Sixers are a team that can lose one game to Detroit by 18 and then win the next meeting by seven.

Without Bynum, the Sixers are a sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and that won't be good enough to advance any further than last season.

So, Bynum is correct when he says he should get fully healthy. But hypothetically, if Bynum could play if it was the 'serious'' time of the season, then he needs to get out on the court with his teammates right now.

For the Sixers to get to "serious" time, there is no part of the season that is not serious.