Andrew Bynum's absence OK for now
The Lakers need their young center to be healthy when it matters -- during the playofs
There has been talk of Bynum being out until Thanksgiving or possibly as late as Christmas, but in reality any holiday before Mother's Day should be just fine for the Lakers.
Yes, it would be great to have a healthy Bynum for an entire season but that's a luxury the Lakers have had only once during his career -- four years ago when he wasn't even a full-time starter. Since then, Bynum has been limited or out during the postseason the past three years as the Lakers have made it to the NBA Finals.
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As much as everyone would like to criticize Bynum for postponing surgery on his right knee until July 28, more than a month after the end of the NBA Finals, it's a decision that wasn't made by Bynum alone. It was cleared by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, general manager Mitch Kupchak and their entire training staff.
The goal for Bynum, who turns 23 on Wednesday, wasn't necessarily a quick recovery but a successful recovery that would pay long-term dividends in April, May and June ... not October, November and December.
It's not as though the Lakers don't have experience playing without Bynum during the season and in the playoffs. He has missed 96 regular-season games over the past three years and the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals without him in 2008. While the Lakers are 111-39 with Bynum the past three seasons, they are also a respectable 68-28 without him. The Lakers don't have a problem winning games and going far in the playoffs without the starting center. Where they need Bynum's size in the paint is during the NBA Finals, when they could face the likes of Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Yet as the Lakers open the regular season Tuesday and navigate through the first two months of their schedule without Bynum, Lakers fans are again wondering why he is on the injured list. Seeing the 7-foot, 285-pound center sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes has become a far too common occurrence in their eyes and there comes a point when sympathy turns into apathy.
"Obviously, they want a player that they care about to be out there on the court come the start of the season," Bynum said. "I hear it, but at the same time, I had to do what's good for me and had to be ready as far as the surgery goes."
Maybe what was good for Bynum was a trip to South Africa to watch the World Cup, backpacking through Europe with some friends and taking part in a five-day safari in Durban. It might not have been deserved in the eyes of some but after he gutted his way through the playoffs and especially through the Finals, playing on one leg, he more than deserved a break and an opportunity to enjoy his success before turning his focus to next season. And perhaps that break will set him up for the time when the team needs him most.
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"I know he's getting battered a little bit," Jackson said. "We could have had the operation a little bit earlier, he could have come in a little bit earlier, but the end result is what's he going to be like in May and June, and that's the important part."
Bynum's health before May and June and how many games he misses won't be remembered by Lakers fans if he is, for the first time in his career, a healthy, effective starter during the playoffs. Two seasons ago, Bynum set a career-high with 42 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots in a Jan. 21 game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The next night against the Washington Wizards he had 23 points and 14 rebounds. Do you think anyone remembers those games and those performances? Compare that to Bynum putting up back-to-back games like that in the playoffs.
Maybe one day Bynum will be able to go through a season without missing a game as Derek Fisher has the past five seasons. But as Fisher has taught us, the regular season doesn't mean much unless you're healthy enough to make the big shots when they count most.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.