Speaking of Andrew Bynum ...
Bynum is starting at center again after missing 32 games with a torn ligament in his right knee, bringing his own set of debate points: whether the Lakers can dare count on him, whether he will hold them back even if he does make it to the end, whether altering the starting lineup in the final full week of the regular season on behalf of a complementary player is ever a good idea. Small issues like that.
On the other hand, Bynum can be a difference-maker unlike most any other 21-year-old. He is a complementary player only because Bryant and Pau Gasol are present, a 7-footer who has made massive strides as payback to general manager Mitch Kupchak for picking him 10th in 2005 and then sticking with Bynum even as Bryant lobbied for the Lakers to "ship out" the prospect two years ago. Now, put the entire league in a draft pool and Dwight Howard is the only center younger than 25 who goes ahead of Bynum.
He is a prodigy and an undisputed centerpiece of the long-term plan in Los Angeles. In the moment, though, Bynum is the question mark who missed the final 46 games of the 2007-08 regular season and the entire playoffs with an injured left knee and just missed about 40 percent of this season with the injured right knee.
"There's no doubt about the fact that you add another factor that's as big as that, it's going to change the complexion," Jackson said. "Just the function of units, how they function together. It could be either great, it could be average, or it could be just a little deterrent."
The early results have been very encouraging: 16 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes Thursday against the Nuggets and 13 and six in 31 minutes the next night at Portland, signaling the Lakers' belief that his conditioning is far along despite the prolonged absence. Then came the 18 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes Sunday against Memphis. In an important statement supported by the heavy minutes in a back-to-back so early in the return to action, the Lakers don't envision the opening games of the playoffs as a Bynum training run.