The Lakers' Andrew Bynum joined the starting lineup Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets for the first time since returning from offseason knee surgery. The move coincided with a 103-88 win and a three-game losing streak snapped.
It will also be a permanent adjustment.
"We knew we were gonna have to make this move eventually, getting Drew out there on the floor," explained coach Phil Jackson, who confirmed Bynum would start at center Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers. "It was going to take a little bit of a experimental stage, a "getting to know you" stage again. Fortunately, we came through it with flying colors. I thought it would be much more clumsy than it happened to be. So we're happy with that."
Bynum was asked by Jackson if he was ready to start during a team meeting on Wednesday. Bynum confirmed his readiness to his coach verbally, then on the court with 18 points and six rebounds in 30:33 of play, the most minutes he's played this season.
"I'm still a little bit limited as far as explosiveness, but other than that, I feel pretty good," said Bynum.
Bynum received some therapy and ice Thursday morning, but experienced no pain or swelling. Physically and mentally, he welcomed the notion of extended minutes.
"The longer you're out there on the floor, the more comfortable you're going to be and the more in shape you're gonna get," explained Bynum. "Everything just sorta works itself out."
Bynum rejoining the starting lineup means Lamar Odom will slide back to the bench, his primary role over the last two seasons. Odom is enjoying arguably his best season as a pro, and the move could potentially jeopardize a legitimate campaign for his first All-Star bid. Still, the forward retained his typically amenable nature about becoming a sub again.
"It was expected," said Odom. "That's [Bynum's] spot and that's his role on the team. So it wasn't like there was a competition for a spot or even last year or the year before when [Jackson] decided to start Drew. That's the way it is and that's what I expected as soon as he got back to full strength."
As for being honored in February, Odom felt a spot on the All-Star team remained a possibility if he maintained his numbers coming off the bench. Along with perhaps getting named Sixth Man of the Year, Odom will shoot for the best case scenario, but not dwell one way or the other over the outcome.
"Trying to make the All-Star team coming off the bench is something I'll work hard for," said Odom. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. If it does, then great. It's something to celebrate."
Odom's coach also appreciates his willingness to sacrifice for the team, along with the effect of that sacrifice.
"That's the difference between championship teams," noted Jackson. "We said it two years ago and last year, the difference is you have guys that you bring off the bench that could be starters. [Manu Ginobli has been it over the years for San Antonio. This year he is starting, but numbers of players are in that role in this league that make a difference in teams."
Fellow reserve Matt Barnes couldn't contain his excitement over Odom joining the second unit.
"Oh, man. Not to boast, but we have to have the deepest bench in the league now, with an All-Star [caliber player] coming off our bench," said Barnes. "He makes the game a lot easier for us because he can play every position out there. He knows the offense inside and out. He gets everybody else involved. As someone on the second unit, you couldn't ask for anything more."
Wednesday's pregame meeting wasn't conducted solely to announce a new starting lineup. Jackson, who called the meeting, also used the time to get a discombobulated team back on the same page.
"We talked about some principles that we have as a basketball team and we need to get back to," explained Bynum. "Just to attack the game on defense, to be defensively mindful. Stopping other teams. Trying to compound stops, because that's what's going to get your team going regardless of whether or not you're missing shots. If you're able to stop a team consecutively, three or four times, you'll get more opportunities on the offense and it's gonna be with higher energy."
"Just going back to the basics," added Pau Gasol about the topics covered. "The principles of our defense, our offense. What we need to do in order for this system to work. Team unity is what it comes down to. When you have so many great pieces, so many great talents on one team, so many great individuals, you gotta get them to play together to be successful. Once you do that, the results are gonna come."
The results were certainly positive against the Hornets, but perspective was maintained about how much work remains before the team is truly back on track.
"We know it's going to take a little bit of time before we're a full-fledged team that we think represents the championship teams that we've had," acknowledged Jackson.
Andy Kamenetzky covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.