With Andrew Bynum probably coming back around Thanksgiving, many eyes have shifted toward the return timetable for another player. A healthy one.
Kobe Bryant played seven of the Lakers' eight exhibition games but averaged only 12.6 points and, of greater concern, shot a gruesome 28.2%, making only 24 of 85 shots overall, five of 29 from three-point range (17.2%).
Bryant, of course, said everything was fine with his surgically repaired right knee and didn't blink when a reporter asked whether he could play 40 minutes in the season opener Tuesday against Houston.
"Sure," he said Sunday, typically tight-lipped about his physical status.
He offered little else on the subject of his knee.
"It's good," he said when asked about it again.
The Lakers aren't sweating with a soft schedule in which 20 of their first 28 games are against non-playoff teams from last season. They don't play a statement game until Miami on Christmas Day, they won't get run up and down the court by the young-and-restless Oklahoma City Thunder until mid-January, and they don't see their old friends, the Celtics, until the end of January.
Panic buttons? If such things even exist other than as sports metaphors, they're safely encased under glass if you ask the Lakers.
"Kobe's made some progress," forward Ron Artest said. "He started out a little slow, but he's starting to make progress."
Bryant saved his best exhibition game for the Lakers' last, combining 22 points with seven assists in a 105-102 overtime victory last Friday over Golden State.
The problem, though, was his shot, which was flat and short on many occasions in exhibition play. He didn't show his usual elevation and made only six of 19 against the Warriors, saving his more efficient damage for the free-throw line (eight for nine).
Coach Phil Jackson recently said it would be a couple of weeks into the regular season before Bryant rediscovered his usual touch and aplomb.
Bryant didn't seem overly worried on the Lakers' second-to-last day of practice before opening night.
"I think we're good," he said. "You don't want to push too hard."
Bynum progressing … slowly
Bynum has started running on a treadmill, the latest step in his gradual recovery from off-season knee surgery.
Jackson said he had "kind of" pegged a return date for Bynum around Thanksgiving.
"I think the basketball part is going to be easy," Jackson said. "I think the conditioning and the strengthening and those things will take time. Reactive time, I think that's an issue, where he can react to the speed of the game."
Bynum did not talk to reporters Sunday but was eager to return, perhaps even a little too much, Jackson said.
"I think he wants to ramp it up a little faster than we want him to," Jackson said. "We want him to be able to go in and sustain that effort when he does get back. We want him back tomorrow, but if he's back in two or three or four weeks, we understand what it's going to take."
Odom, Ratliff recovering
Lamar Odom and Theo Ratliff would "definitely" be available to play in Tuesday's game, Jackson said.
Odom had been bothered by a swollen left thumb and sore back. Ratliff missed the exhibition-season finale because of a swollen left knee.
Luke Walton, however, isn't expected to play Tuesday after aggravating a strained right hamstring last Friday.
The Lakers' main off-season pickups, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, are in varying stages of learning the Lakers' offense.
"Matt still has a ways to go. This system's a little bit foreign to him," Jackson said. "I think Steve's fine as far as I can tell."
Jackson also gave a rare compliment to a rookie, saying versatile second-round selection Devin Ebanks could occasionally play power forward or shooting guard in addition to small forward.
"He's playing well enough to see some minutes," he said.
Lord of the ring
Artest said he was going to give away his championship ring via raffle, not auction.
"It would have been only a couple rich guys who would have had a chance," Artest said. "Anybody can win this ring."
He will begin selling raffle tickets for $2 each (minimum purchase of five) later this week on his website, ronartest.com. The proceeds will be funneled toward to-be-determined mental-health causes.