The smile is back on his face, the sparkle is back in his eyes and, most important, the bounce is back in his step.
Nearly eight months after Andrew Bynum suffered a major injury to his left knee, less than four months after undergoing arthroscopic surgery, 2 1/2 months after finishing his rehabilitation in New York and after six weeks of vigorous training in Atlanta, he declared himself fit to return and eager to proceed.
"Everything's ready to go. I'm 100%," the 20-year-old Lakers center said Friday at the team's El Segundo training center. "I think I'm the only guy who wants to see the season start tomorrow. I can't wait to play with the fellows. I haven't done that in so long. I'm excited."
Before he gets too excited, however, there are a few questions to be answered. Such as:
Has the knee healed sufficiently to support his 7-foot, 285-pound frame when he subjects it to the rigors of playing over an entire season?
Can he regain the peak form he demonstrated last season before his Jan. 13 injury, after struggling in his first two seasons?
Will Bynum be able to smoothly mesh with Pau Gasol, who joined the Lakers and manned the center spot after Bynum was lost?
Will Bynum get a five-year contract extension worth about $80 million, the maximum allowable, by the Oct. 31 deadline for such an agreement?
"We would like to have his future with the club secured by then," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said from Springfield, Mass., where he and other members of the organization were attending the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for longtime coach Pat Riley.
If the Lakers fail to sign Bynum, heading into the final year of his contract, by the deadline, he would become a restricted free agent at season's end.
The Lakers don't want that to happen, but they also don't want to lock themselves into a long-term deal only to find out Bynum remains damaged goods. He suffered a bone bruise and a dislocated kneecap in the January injury. Nobody knows the devastating effect a knee injury can have better than Kupchak, whose own career with the Lakers was cut short by a damaged knee.
Training camp and several exhibition games could provide the Lakers with the assurance they seek about Bynum's recovery before the signing deadline.
"If I handle my business on the court," he said, "the business off the court will be handled. It would be nice to get it done before the season. Obviously, I think about it, but I'm going to be out there either way."
There is no uncertainly in Bynum's mind about his ability to work with Gasol, a fellow 7-footer.
"I think it's going to work great," Bynum said. "He'll be a [power forward]. I'll be a [center]. He's a good passer, as am I. He'll be able to throw me lobs. On the defensive end, I think we'll have a twin-tower effect. If somebody gets by him, he will already have changed their shot. Then, I'll be able to come catch them from the other side."
Bynum says he can't wait to get back to work.
"One thing about being away for so long, " he said, "you get to step back and realize how easily things can be taken away. It definitely made me appreciate the game a lot more."
On Monday, Kobe Bryant will announce on his website his plans for dealing with the injured pinkie he has had since February.
Suffering from a torn ligament and a fragment of loose bone in the finger, Bryant taped it up and played through the rest of the season and the Olympics.