reporting from Washington
One player returned but another left the Lakers … for good.
Andrew Bynum was back in action, finally, putting in 17 minutes of work Tuesday in the Lakers' 103-89 victory Tuesday over the Washington Wizards.
As Bynum entered the fray, Sasha Vujacic exited in his seventh season. The Lakers agreed to trade him to New Jersey for veteran forward Joe Smith in a cost-cutting move that would save them about $8 million in salary and luxury-tax considerations while expanding their frontcourt depth.
The deal probably will be announced Wednesday and is contingent upon Smith passing a physical in his 16th NBA season.
The bigger-picture story, though, was Bynum's long-awaited return from off-season knee surgery, in case it wasn't obvious when Lakers fans, desperate for his return, began applauding at Verizon Center when he took off his sweats several minutes before he actually entered the game.
He had seven points, four rebounds and two blocked shots, showing bursts of power and also flakes of rust after his long layoff.
He entered the game midway through the first quarter and blocked Hilton Armstrong's shot 55 seconds later. Then he blocked Nick Young's shot a few minutes after that.
He had no problem going to the line, making five of eight free-throw attempts, but looked a step slow in transition and hoisted a few off-balance shots, making one of five from the field.
He reported no swelling in the knee after the game and said it would take him about four more weeks to round into shape and catch up to the speed of the game.
"I'm a little bit rusty," Bynum said. "I'm just out there, starting fresh. It takes time but I'm glad the wait's over."
So are the Lakers.
"He's going to get easy baskets just by the nature of his athleticism and his size," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "That's important for us, the easy ones."
Said Kobe Bryant: "It's been a long haul for him in his young career. So many injuries he's been dealing with. [His return] gives us more size, it gives us length. He makes a big difference for us."
Bryant was the reason the Lakers beat the Wizards, scoring 16 of his 24 points in the third quarter and making an efficient seven of 13 from the field. He did have a low moment when he missed three free throws after being fouled on a three-point shot.
Last week, the Lakers hung on for a 115-108 victory against the Wizards, but their job was easier Tuesday when Washington went without injured starters Andray Blatche and John Wall. That would be the same John Wall who blistered the Lakers for 22 points and 14 assists last week. And forward Yi Jianlian didn't return after spraining his knee in the first quarter.
The Lakers led by as many as 23 on Tuesday, allowing the focus to center on Bynum, including his missteps.
In the third quarter, he airballed an off-balance layup attempt after grabbing an offensive rebound and finding himself surrounded by defenders. In the fourth quarter, he missed a short jumper from the right side, had the ball stripped on a move to the basket and missed an alley-oop attempt.
Jackson said Bynum's return would help Pau Gasol, whose scoring and accuracy were down in recent weeks. He had 16 points on six-for-11 shooting Tuesday.
Jackson said the All-Star forward-center had been playing "poorly" and "really faltered" before Tuesday's game.
"I think we're .500 in the last 10 games," Jackson said, "and a lot of it's because Pau's kind of run out of gas and played too many minutes."
When told that some people question how Gasol could be tired after taking off the entire summer, Jackson said, "I do too."
Then Jackson stepped back a bit verbally and supported Gasol.
"He's getting everything thrown at him," Jackson said. "That's kind of like what's gone on around the league — attack Pau physically at both ends of the court. He's given up more points sometimes than he's scored and those are things that are remarkable for us. We value his play as an All-Star and it's been tough for him."
Bynum was back, however, and Gasol was definitely pleased.
"I'm glad to see him healthy, glad to see him playing basketball and obviously helping us in different ways," he said.