It's back to the future for the Lakers.
With center Kwame Brown sidelined indefinitely by a severely sprained left ankle, 19-year-old Andrew Bynum is expected to replace him in the starting lineup Thursday when the Lakers face the Kings in Sacramento.
"Chances are great that Andrew will start," said Coach Phil Jackson on Tuesday after practice at the team's El Segundo training facility. "He started earlier in the year and did pretty well. I just don't want him to get three fouls in six minutes in the first half."
Although no one in the organization has questioned the potential of 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum, selected out of high school with the 10th pick in the 2005 draft, Jackson has questioned Bynum's work ethic and discipline.
With Chris Mihm out because of an ankle injury, Jackson made Bynum the starter at the beginning of the season, but then replaced the teenager after 14 games with Brown when Bynum was late to a pregame warmup.
Bynum maintains he has suffered from coming off the bench over the last 17 games.
"My play was at a higher level at the start of the season when I was starting," Bynum said. "Not starting affects your rhythm. It's tough coming off the bench. Sometimes when you come off the bench, you haven't played for like an hour."
The numbers bear out Bynum.
As a starter, he averaged 8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. As a reserve, he has averaged 6.1 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Jackson said second-year man Ronny Turiaf, 6-10, and fourth-year man Brian Cook, 6-9, can also expect to get their share of minutes at center.
Jackson also brought up the subject of a questionable work ethic recently when discussing his former center, Shaquille O'Neal. But when told Tuesday that O'Neal, now with the Miami Heat and out since mid-November because of a knee injury, might be returning to play in Los Angeles on Jan. 15 against the Lakers, Jackson sounded like O'Neal's biggest booster.
"I think it's great," Jackson said of O'Neal's return. "Whenever Shaq plays, it's great for the game. It's great for the NBA. And it always picks us up a little bit, the team he's playing against."
O'Neal last month responded to Jackson's criticism by calling him Benedict Arnold, an American general in the Revolutionary War who turned traitor and joined the British forces.
"The funny thing about it was a lot of our players didn't know what that meant," Jackson said. "I couldn't believe that. What do they teach in school nowadays? No Benedict Arnold, I guess."
Jackson, who annually gives his players books to read, said he may have to find them material on the Revolutionary War this year.
There were smiles in El Segundo after the Lakers spent the day practicing with leather basketballs. The NBA switched back to the old balls on New Year's day after a failed experiment with a synthetic ball.
"It's got a live feel to it," said Jackson of the leather ball. "It feels like it was once a living thing."
Luke Walton said he was so excited about the switch that he was taking a leather ball home with him.
"I want to play with it around the house," he said, "and get used to it again."