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Meet and greet

On a momentous day for the Lakers, the two-time defending champs visit again with President Obama and welcome Andrew Bynum back to the fold

December 14, 2010|Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner

WASHINGTON — Not much can upstage a visit with President Obama, but in the Lakers' world, the announcement of Andrew Bynum's return comes close.

The Lakers were busy Monday in the nation's capital, celebrating their second consecutive NBA championship one last time and also saving room for the words of a 23-year-old center.

"I'm definitely playing [Tuesday]," said Bynum, who had not experienced game action since undergoing surgery in July to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.

The Lakers, on a 9-7 skid after winning their first eight games, have been waiting for him to return, though there is no timetable for how many minutes he'll play against the Washington Wizards.

"I don't know how long," he said. "[Monday's] practice felt very good. Obviously, I'm not myself yet, but I can definitely go out there and help the team, and I'm going to go do that."

Bynum would play only about 15 minutes, Phil Jackson had theorized, and might not start, even though the Lakers' coach said throughout this season that Bynum would not come off the bench.

Jackson apparently changed his mind after conferring with Lakers trainers and planned to defer to Bynum on whether or not to start.

Even Jackson didn't seem sure of what Bynum could offer.

"We'll just live with what happens," he said. "It may hurt the team, but we're willing to do that at this point. It's a big effect for us, hopefully."

Pau Gasol, who moved from power forward to center while Bynum was out and looked worn down in recent games, was pleased with the apparent end of Bynum's sideline time.

"We've been pretty short-handed as far as rotation on the interior game," Gasol said. "For 20-some games, it's been that way. It's a difference when you have somebody like Andrew in the rotation."

Bynum averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes a game last season.

Meanwhile, in national news, the type that Lakers fans hadn't been anticipating for months on end but would still satisfy them in the celebratory sense, Obama met with the team in what has become an annual ritual.

The Lakers were recognized by Obama during a five-minute speech at a Boys & Girls Club in south Washington. It was a different setting from last season's trip to the White House, which Obama addressed off the top.

"Kobe [Bryant] and Derek [Fisher] have been there so many times now, they could lead tours themselves," he said. "Same is true for Coach Jackson, so I thought we'd change things up a little bit."

Then the former senator from Illinois reminded Jackson that the five championships he has won as the Lakers' coach are one fewer than he won while coaching the Chicago Bulls.

Obama also tweaked the Lakers for their 88-84 loss to Chicago on Friday, saying the Bulls were "showing some signs of life."

Obama then congratulated Bryant for winning the Finals most-valuable-player award and called the Lakers "one of the outstanding sports franchises in our country and our history."

Almost all the players and coaches said they enjoyed the chance to meet with the president.

Bryant said he was impressed by Obama's being "extremely competitive" and Jackson said he congratulated Obama "on his latest compromise" when they spoke privately.

"I told him that he's a left-hander and he should know that you have to go right to shoot," Jackson said, referring to Obama's recent tax-cut proposal. "But he hit a three-pointer this time."

Ron Artest skipped last season's meeting with Obama, but was there this time, complete with his own angle, as usual.

"I wasn't that excited to come because I feel like I know Obama already," he said. "I watch CNN a lot. It's part of my routine."

The five players new to the team watched the event from the front row, blending in with the rest of the crowd.

Before the ceremony, the Lakers sat down with small groups of elementary-school kids at the Boys & Girls Club and helped with a letter-writing assignment to families of injured military members.

The kids, predictably, stole the show.

"Where's Kobe?" they asked Lamar Odom. Another one stared at him and said, "You're tall."

One of the kids asked Artest whether the Lakers would beat the Wizards on Tuesday. He answered diplomatically: "We'll see . . ."

Another one was able to recite the entire roster of Kardashians but didn't know the names of any Lakers . . . except Odom.

It was an active day for the Lakers, for sure. They looked one last time at the past and then with anticipation, finally, at the near future.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

broderick.turner@latimes.com

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

ANDREW BYNUM RETURNS

The Lakers' Andrew Bynum is expected to make his season debut tonight at Washington.

A breakdown of how the team has fared the last four seasons with and without the oft-injured center.

2007-08

*--* WITH BYNUM

24-11 685

WITHOUT BYNUM

33-14 702 *--*

2008-09

*--* WITH BYNUM

40-10 800

WITHOUT BYNUM

25-7 781 *--*

2009-10

*--* WITH BYNUM

47-18 723

WITHOUT BYNUM

10-7 588 *--*

20010-11

*--* WITH BYNUM

0-0 000

WITHOUT BYNUM

17-7 708 *--*

PLAYOFFS

*--* WITH BYNUM

32-14 2 titles

WITHOUT BYNUM

14-7 0 titles *--*

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