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Bynum? It's not yet April

March 18, 2009|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

Waiting for Andrew, or as the Lakers call him these days . . .

Who?

There is no more pressing question in Lakerdom these days than when will Andrew Bynum return?

This is an unhappy coincidence for the Lakers, since there's nothing they want to talk about less.

When it came up last week, Coach Phil Jackson directed everyone to his previous announcement that he's no longer discussing Bynum's return, the theory they're better without him -- that was a good one -- or anything else about Andrew, like whether he's still in the country.

"I think I said last week, 'Don't ask me again until April,' " said Jackson, "so the next time you ask me, I'm going to say, 'I'm not going to talk about it until April,' OK?

"There's nothing going to go on here until April, and then we'll know something and what's going on there."

And how long might it take after his return to rejoin the starting lineup?

"We'll talk about that in April," Jackson said.

Look at the bright side: Only 14 more days until an update!

Of course, it came up in the wake of the Lakers' grisly loss in Portland, their third in a row on the road after equally grisly performances in Denver and Phoenix.

Phil could see where this was going.

If they lost in Houston, ESPN's "Around the Horn" and "PTI" would lead with the possibility Andrew might not return, examining the quality of his care.

If the Lakers lost in San Antonio, too, news choppers would be flying circle eights over Andrew's house in Westchester, hoping to get a shot of him in his driveway.

Happily, the Lakers won in Houston and San Antonio and everyone went back to being patient.

Since it's ask and duck now, before Tuesday night's game I asked Phil whether he feels obliged to assume a worst-case scenario without one of his centers, whose name I tactfully didn't mention.

"That's the way I pursue it," said Jackson. "He's not on the court until he's on the court. And we have to go from there."

Andrew's name didn't actually come up, but I think Phil was talking about him, not D.J. Mbenga.

Even for modern journalism, which is notable for the hysteria that attaches to everything, this "story" and the resulting "news blackout" has been overheated.

I thought from the beginning the Lakers, who took an arch-conservative approach with Bynum's injury last spring, only to find it wasn't conservative enough and Andrew wasn't coming back at all, were taking an arch-arch-conservative approach this time.

Bynum's left medial collateral ligament was torn, but not enough to require an arthroscopy, which still might have had him back in eight weeks.

His rehab, so problematic last spring, has gone smoothly. A couple of days ago, an unworried Andrew said, "I'll definitely be back this season."

I would guess he would practice with the Lakers when they return from their upcoming seven-game trip, and, if everything is OK, play April 3 against Houston or April 5 against the Clippers.

It usually takes injured players two weeks to get their legs back so, if everything goes well, he'd be ready to start during their first-round series, or early in the second.

Yes, they'd like him back in the starting lineup.

No, they don't think they're better without him.

Denver Coach George Karl, who threw that out there ("Why do we always say Bynum? How many games has he played for this team?") is famous for psychological ploys.

In the spring of 2000, with Karl's Milwaukee Bucks fighting a young no-name Orlando team for the last playoff spot, he asked how the Magic players could keep going out there, knowing management would clean most of them out after the season.

Something like this even came up in Hakeem Olajuwon's Hall of Fame career, in the spring of 1991 when the Rockets won 15 games while he was out and Houston talk radio echoed with calls to trade him.

Said Hakeem, noting lots of teams -- including the Lakers -- would be glad to get him and give him a raise: "I could be happy with more money, if that's what everybody wants."

Three years later, still in Houston, he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships.

Of course, after Tuesday night's 94-93 loss to the 76ers dropped the Lakers a game behind Cleveland, another mishap against Golden State Thursday before they head out and those news choppers could still be scrambled.

Andrew may not be back until he's back, but until then, Lakerdom turns its lonely eyes to him.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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