NEW YORK -- Only an hour or so before the Los Angeles Lakers got the bad news on Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant said his team is still championship material -- even if their starting center ends up being sidelined for the rest of the season.
It was early Monday afternoon -- Bryant had stayed late after shootaround at Madison Square Garden to work on his jump shot with assistant coach Brian Shaw before the Lakers' game against the Knicks -- and it seemed more than a little ironic how on Groundhog Day the Lakers were again talking about the prospect of moving forward without one of their most important parts. After all, it was almost exactly one year ago that Bynum went down with a major injury to his knee, also in a game against Memphis, which ended up sidelining him through the playoffs.
Back then, the Lakers initially announced the injury as a sprain -- just as they did this time.
But the injury was again far worse than a sprain, and the Lakers set a recovery timetable of 8-12 weeks Monday in announcing that Bynum tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in a collision with Bryant in Memphis two nights earlier.
Last season, Bynum was also expected to be sidelined 8-12 weeks after bruising a bone in his left knee and briefly dislocating his kneecap. Instead, he missed the final 46 games of the season and watched as the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals. He underwent arthroscopic surgery May 21 to remove cartilage debris and smooth some rough spots on the underside of his kneecap.
"I'm very optimistic I should be back by April," Bynum said. "Last year was a totally different injury, last year's required surgery."
Doctors have prescribed a non-surgical recovery for Bynum, to begin in a week to 10 days after the swelling in the knee has subsided.
"Basically, he said there are three degrees of tear: low, medium and high. And he was like: 'You have medium-to-high. In between there.'"
Bryant, saying he was hopeful the news wouldn't be bad but sounding resigned that it would be, was asked by ESPN.com if he thought the Lakers still had enough to win a title without Bynum.
"We do," Bryant replied, saying that even a season-ending injury to Bynum would not be insurmountable. "There have been plenty of teams that lost in the Finals that go back and win the next year."
Bryant, enhancing his argument, pointed to the experience his teammates picked up in their trip to the Finals last June.
"We're better prepared," he said. "For a lot of guys it was the first time, for Pau [Gasol] it was his first time out of the first round and he went all the way to the Finals. So a lot of things were new, but I think having a year of experience and also learning a lot from that series -- because we learned a lot -- now we take those lessons and apply them to this season."
Bryant said the 21-year-old Bynum had been unable to accompany the team to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night, but added that he had spoken to Bynum on Monday morning and found him to be "doing all right."
It was then off to shootaround for Bryant and off to the doctor for Bynum, with the bad news coming down mid-afternoon on the East Coast.
"I think having Andrew in the lineup makes us a very dominant team. With him out of the lineup, we're still a great team, but you put him in the mix and it takes us to another level," Bryant said. "Obviously we found great rhythm with him in there particularly the last week or so, so we'll have to make adjustments."
"This is a team that went to the Finals last year that we put on the floor, so they're confident in what they can do," coach Phil Jackson said. "We know we're going to miss his presence, his rebounding ability. But this is a very capable team."
The injury came as the 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum seemed to be taking a major step forward in his fourth NBA season. In the five games before he was hurt, he was averaging 26.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks and shooting 65.3 percent from the field.
"He was playing as well as anybody in the NBA, anybody," said Lamar Odom, who replaced Bynum in the starting lineup. "What he was doing defensively, his presence, his low-post scoring, his rebounding, dominating the middle. He was playing like a true center, which you don't see too much anymore."
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.