Andrew Bynum cruised down El Segundo Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon after another strenuous workout to rehabilitate his injured right knee, the top down on his BMW convertible.
A man in a pickup truck pulled beside Bynum's car, a stunned look on his face at seeing the Lakers' 7-foot center. His mouth opened just enough to utter encouragement to Bynum.
"Get that knee healthy," the fan yelled.
"Yes, sir!" Bynum said.
He eased on to a restaurant for lunch, parked his car, sat down and stretched out his long legs just before two female Lakers fans asked about the torn medial collateral ligament Bynum suffered Jan. 31 against the Memphis Grizzlies. They got an autograph and a picture before asking the question that has been on the minds of all Lakers fans.
"When are you coming back?" one asked.
"Two weeks," Bynum said, smiling. "Hopefully."
That question has been posed to Bynum "all day, every day." He has been training rigorously in an attempt to get back after missing the last 29 games.
"I smile at everybody and tell them I want to get back sooner than you all want me back," Bynum said in an exclusive interview with The Times. "Trust and believe me. All I do is play basketball and not to be able to do it, you just kind of feel out of place.
"I want to play before the playoffs. It'll be close. I'm looking to make the last couple of games."
A schedule was pulled out to see whom the Lakers play in their final two regular-season games before the playoffs start the weekend of April 17.
That game would be April 12 at Staples Center against the Memphis Grizzlies, the same team Bynum injured his right knee against in January. The same team Bynum injured his left knee against Jan. 13, 2008.
"That's crazy, right?" Bynum said, laughing.
Almost as crazy as this last weekend when Bynum was photographed with a Playboy bunny on his shoulders during a visit to the Playboy mansion.
"I got to meet Hugh Hefner. Who wouldn't want to go meet that dude?" Bynum said. "He talked about how much of a Lakers fan he is and how he is a friend of [Lakers owner] Dr. [Jerry] Buss.
"The picture obviously everybody is talking about, when I picked the Playmate up . . . I don't know. I just wanted to take a shot like that. I wasn't going to be a party-pooper about it."
The Lakers said they won't discipline Bynum, who mentioned that he didn't get any "grief" about his encounter.
"I'm just young," Bynum, 21, said. "I'm just living, waiting to get back to basketball. If people think I wasn't serious about coming back, I wouldn't be going to these exercises right now doing two hours of defensive slides."
Bynum apologized for being an hour late for the interview. He had been working out with Bill Bertka, the Lakers' director of scouting and basketball consultant, and his personal trainer, Sean Zarzana, at the team's training facility in El Segundo.
Bertka has Bynum going through a series of fast-break, defensive and offensive drills.
Bynum has been playing two-on-two and three-on-three in recent days against free agents.
He has lifted weights to strengthen his quads and hamstrings to make sure the ligaments around his knees are strong.
"The last three weeks have been really big," Bynum said. "I was not so good the first week. But then I got better after that. Now I've gotten better. Now it's time to up the rehab load and see what happens."
That could come today, when Bynum hopes to play two-on-two and three-on-three against some of his Lakers teammates when the team returns home from a seven-game, 13-day journey.
During his down time, Bynum has tried to keep sane by playing video games, looking for a home and sightseeing in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
"Oh, I've been killing the movies. Hollywood has been making a fortune off me," Bynum said.
He has watched every Lakers' away game.
"When I watch it, I'm totally a fan," Bynum said. "I'm yelling at them."
Soon, he hopes to be back with his teammates.
Soon, he hopes he will be able to stop answering questions from those who wonder whether he's injury prone.
Bynum suffered a left kneecap injury last season after he stepped on Lamar Odom's foot. Bynum missed the final 46 regular-season games before having season-ending surgery.
Bynum tore his MCL after Kobe Bryant crashed into his right knee.
"I tell people I don't feel I'm injury-prone, because both of the accidents obviously were freak accidents," Bynum said.
Bynum was the starting center and averaged 14 points and 8.2 rebounds before he was injured.
"I definitely want to start, but obviously it's in Phil's hands," Bynum said of Lakers Coach Phil Jackson's plans for his return.
Bynum added that Lamar Odom has been playing well, and stated his priority.
"I just want to get a ring," Bynum said.
The final decision on when he plays will "ultimately be up to me," Bynum says, adding that he wants to be sure and have confidence his knee will hold up.
"The question is when I say I'm ready, 'Am I comfortable with it?' " Bynum said. "I don't know right know if I could go out there and play a 100%, full, all-out game. I don't have confidence in the knee just yet. But I'm getting there and I believe I'll be ready for the first round."