EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Before Sunday's loss to the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson expressed serious frustration at the slow recovery for center Andrew Bynum following offseason surgery on his right knee, and the extended minutes that Bynum's absence has forced upon Pau Gasol.
"We put all our eggs in the basket of Andrew coming back and we hoped he'd be back by this time, by Nov. 15, by Thanksgiving time, by [our last] road trip, etc. We don't know when Andrew is coming back," Jackson said Sunday, before Gasol endured heavy playing time, logging over 45 minutes on the floor against the Pacers.
Monday, as the Lakers finished practice ahead of Tuesday's visit to Memphis, Jackson made it clear his displeasure is aimed at the situation, not his injured pivot.
"I think it just has to be what it is. It's unfortunate that we have a lot of games right now on our schedule, but that happens. Three, three and a half games a week, and it kind of averages out," he said. "We've been ending up playing a game every other day for the first part of the season, so here we are with a lot of games under our belt, and [Gasol] has played a lot of minutes. It's taken away from our effectiveness a little bit."
He made clear, though, Bynum has been diligent about rehabilitating his knee.
"He's a very willing worker. Absolutely no doubt," Jackson said.
Jackson believes the heavy workload is negatively affecting Gasol's performance.
"I think Pau has been playing such great basketball, and right now he just can't do it. He just can't play up to the level of his capabilities, because he hasn't got the guy who can give him relief minutes."
With veteran backup Theo Ratliff out another three-to-five weeks after knee surgery earlier this month and the team not expecting to add another player to the roster, Jackson's only options behind Gasol at center are Lamar Odom, also playing more minutes than the Lakers would like, and rookie Derrick Caracter, the team's second round pick out of UTEP. Jackson isn't yet comfortable giving extended minutes to Caracter, though acknowledged he might have to anyway.
"I hate to put a kid like Derek in that situation, and have him fail consistently. That's not what you want to have done with rookies, you want to have them succeed," Jackson said. "Hopefully he'll survive it."
At least Jackson is finally being given reason for optimism.
After successfully navigating on Saturday afternoon his first on-court workout since his procedure July 28th, Monday afternoon Bynum was again a participant in practice, including time playing four-on-four in the halfcourt, with light contact. He was pleased with the day's work, but understands more benchmarks must be hit before he's ready for game action.
"It's just four on four," Bynum said of Monday's workout. "I have to add in full court running and five-on-five. I'm feeling pretty good. The knee didn't really hurt much. I feel a little something, but then it goes right away. Everything's good, I'm healing up, just getting ready."
Bynum expects the intensity of his practice routine to build over the next two to three weeks before returning to the floor.
"I just think I need to go through a week of [full] practice," he said. "That's my big thing, to be able to do that with no swelling. As little pain as possible, and no swelling."
Bynum reiterated a desire to make his season debut sometime during the team's 12 day, seven city road trip beginning December 8th. Once he does, while Bynum is expected to return to the starting lineup, Jackson doesn't believe he'll have the conditioning to play starters' minutes.
"I just don't think that happens. If he can play six or eight minutes, we'd be happy," he said. "Not extended minutes at any one time, but maybe 18 [over the course of a game]. Three or four rotations."
Bynum doesn't believe Jackson's comments were personal.
"I don't think that's a shot at me at all," he said. "At the same time, he's told me to take my time and get better. I think he just wants somebody on the team to kind of step up and help down there."
Brian Kamenetzky is a regular contributor to ESPNLosAngeles.com.