Andrew Bynum, Brimming With Potential, Slowly Works Into Shape
LOS ANGELES -- Other than with Shaquille O'Neal, Phil Jackson hasn't had greatness in the pivot during his coaching career. He did still win three titles with former star Bill Cartwright at center and three with never-was star Luc Longley manning the middle.
So Andrew Bynum could be regarded as the second-best center Jackson has coached ever. The only problem is the Lakers' coach can't get him on the floor much.
So pardon Jackson's frustration regarding Bynum, who has been slow to return to form this season while coming off yet another knee injury. Jackson knows what kind of potential he has in Bynum, who is just 23 but has shown some impressive flashes in his six-year career.
"Just reactions right now,'' Jackson said about Bynum still not being close to 100 percent after he has played in six games after missing the first 24 of the season due to a right knee surgery. "Conditioning is part of that. I think his reactive ability and just reacting to the ball and the game is still an issue.
"Andrew's heavy. He's a muscular kid, but I don't think he's overweight per se. But he could probably stand to lose 10 pounds and be lighter and have less of a load to carry.''
Bynum, listed at 7-foot, 285 pounds, suffered a torn meniscus last season during Game 6 of the playoffs' first round April 30 at Oklahoma City, but played in the Lakers' final 17 playoff games en route to their second straight title. It marked the third straight season Bynum had suffered a serious knee injury.
Jackson, who has been bringing Bynum off the bench since his return while continuing to start true power forward Pau Gasol at center, loves Bynum when he's healthy. He talked about a unique skill he possesses.
"Andrew has a special feature as a big guy,'' said Jackson, who has won 11 NBA titles, six with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when Cartwright and Longley started at center, three with the Lakers with O'Neal in the middle and two with Bynum starting.
"He's got the ability to multiple jump. The second jump is almost as good as the first one. That's a big difference for a big guy, when he can go up and maybe get the rebound and get back up and jam the ball.''
Forget a second jump; the injury-riddled Bynum often has had trouble just being able to jump at all.
After averaging 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds during the 2009-10 regular season, a hurt Bynum was much less effective in the postseason, averaging 8.3 and 6.9. But he earned great respect for the way he gutted it out.
Not long after the Lakers wrapped up the title June 17, Bynum went to the World Cup in South Africa as a fan rather than have surgery immediately. His operation initially was scheduled for July 18, although the doctor pushed it back to July 28.
"His trip to South Africa, which included the World Cup, that was part of what he wanted to do,'' said Jackson, not sounding enthralled by that decision. "He was going to come back after that and have an operation (July 18). But the operational process was changed. So now, instead of having four to six weeks, it was double the time. So then when he pushed it back a week and a half or so, that exasperated that whole situation. I don't know if he knew about that. I certainly didn't know about that. We hadn't anticipated that.
"It was a surgery that was hopefully highly successful. But the process delayed his return in such a way he couldn't have practices. That's really important for him to come back and, as a result, he was trying to get practices in the middle of the season, which is really limited to what he can do in the middle of the season. We're an older team. We don't have practices a lot. So it's delayed (Bynum).''
Bynum was cleared to travel to South Africa, which he didn't want to do on crutches. And he doesn't think the doctor pushing back the surgery was a huge deal.
"The 10 days, I don't think it would have made a difference,'' Bynum said. "(The delay in surgery) has to do with my doctor as well. I mean, obviously, it hasn't made a difference. Ten days (earlier), where would we be?''
Regardless, what matters now is how long it will be before Bynum is back to 100 percent. Bynum, averaging 6.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 16.8 minutes in his six games back, still only is able to play in short bursts.
"I think I'm probably still about a month away (from starting),'' Bynum said. "I don't care if I start or not as long as I get the opportunity to help the team. That's all I really care about. ... It's tough to put an exact date on (being 100 percent), but give or take a month or so.''
Jackson isn't sure when Bynum will return to the starting lineup. He said "somewhere in the new year, he's going to start turning the corner towards returning back to where we anticipate he gets up the down the court and gets off the floor the way he normally has done.''
Bynum has had to turn a lot of corners with all his injuries over the past four seasons. If Bynum hadn't suffered a season-ending dislocated right kneecap Jan. 13, 2008, it's possible the Lakers, who lost 4-2 to Boston in the 2008 Finals, now would be three-time defending champions.
On Jan. 31, 2009, Bynum suffered a right knee sprain, which kept him out more than two months. He was able to return for the postseason, limping through it in much the same manner he would a year later.
Despite all the scars on his knees, Bynum still has plenty of time to develop into perhaps the NBA's best center outside of Orlando's Dwight Howard. Having entered the NBA directly out of high school in 2005, the last year that was allowed, he's the youngest player ever to appear in an NBA game at 18 years, six days.
"He has youth on his side,'' said Miami center Erick Dampier, who battled Bynum regularly the previous five years while with Dallas and watched as Bynum hit a pair of nifty hooks over him in the Heat's 96-80 Christmas Day win over the Lakers.
"There's not a lot of (top) young centers out there. He's a good player, and he'll continue to get better. I think he's going to be a great player. He just needs more time, more experience. He has the footwork and he has the right moves. He's going to be the anchor for that team in the future.''
That likely won't happen until Jackson, who's probably in his final season, is gone. But Bynum still figures to end up being the second-best center the legendary Jackson ever coached.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson