Walton's wish: Getting back on the court
Lakers forward recovers slowly from ankle surgery.
By JANIS CARR
The Orange County Register
Without any clocks inside the gym, it was easy for Luke Walton to lose track of time. An hour, then another slipped by without him knowing.
The Lakers forward was captivated by the sloppy pick-up game he watched while running on a weight-resistant treadmill. If only he could play a pick-up game, he thought.
If only Walton could be out on the court, running plays and making baskets. If only he could dish off to Andrew Bynum like he used to and watch wide-eyed as the Lakers center slammed the ball in. If only he could run without worry on his surgically repaired right ankle.
Walton expects to get medical clearance Wednesday from the doctor, giving him the go-ahead to begin more rigorous workouts. He ran Tuesday on a wind-bubble treadmill that reduces body weight on joints, the first time he has tested his ankle since having surgery less than two months ago.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed and if I get it (clearance), I'm going to start pushing it as hard as I can," he said.
Walton had surgery July 18 to remove bone spurs and scar tissue, as well as clean up cartilage debris from his right ankle, which had bothered him toward the end of last season.
He said Tuesday that he wants to be ready to go when training camp opens Sept. 30. Whether his ankle is ready is another matter.
"Right now, it's pretty weak. I do exercises right now and my whole right leg is shaking," Walton said. "And that's a light warm-up exercise.
"It's frustrating because I'm so excited about this season coming up – excited about the team, about the opportunities we have. I want to be there. Today in the gym, the guys were playing 5-on-5 … that's the stuff I want to be doing, but I'm not able yet.
The past two months have been difficult for Walton, whose only other surgery was a minor procedure on his right thumb. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot during college and missed an entire season at Arizona.
But this was harder.
He didn't have classes to keep him busy, term papers to occupy his time or college buddies to prop up his moods.
"I had more down days than I ever want to have again," Walton said.
Walton spent many long afternoons talking to his dad, Bill, who knows a thing or two about surgeries and lost time. The former NBA star's career was pockmarked by foot surgeries and rehab.
"He said you have to make the best of it," Luke Walton said. "He said that things get hard and that's when your character really gets tested. You have to be there, working hard and show the coaches that you want to be in with the team and want to help the team win and get better."
Walton's eagerness to get back into playing shape stems from watching his teammates play that pick-up game the other day, and the team's potential after having reached the NBA Finals last season. The Lakers lost the championship to Boston, four games to two.
"With Bynum anchoring the middle, we can bring back that NBA championship to L.A.," Walton said. "I love our team. I think we have a good mi of young guys and veterans."
Walton also wants to be a part of winning that championship. After playing significant minutes in the Lakers' first two playoff series, he saw his minutes dwindle as the team's run continued. Against the Celtics, Walton averaged just 11 minutes a game and his scoring dropped from 14 points a game to 2.5.
Walton said by that point in the season every player is battling injuries, and his ankle limited his movement. He refused to blame his injury on is playoff performance.
"For whatever reason, my playing time wasn't there (against Boston)," he said. "Coach (Phil Jackson) obviously thought the team had a better chance with the lineup he had on the floor."
Walton hopes to be standing on the floor when the postseason rolls around this time.