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Scott Howard-Cooper

Andrew Bynum has already missed 95 games in his first three seasons in the NBA.
Andrew Bynum has already missed 95 games in his first three seasons in the NBA.
Kevork Djansezian/NBAE via Getty Images

Bynum's decision of vacation over surgery hard to understand

Posted Sep 28 2010 6:13PM

So now there are questions about his head.

The knee issues have already been well documented. Andrew Bynum sat out 46 games in 2007-08 with a damaged tendon, 32 games in 2008-09 with a torn ligament and dragged his right leg around much of the 2010 playoffs with a torn cartilage that, it became obvious, would need postseason surgery. That's a checklist of bad luck for an entire career, let alone a 22 year old.

It became about his mindset around the time Bynum hopped a plane for South Africa to attend the World Cup rather than have the operation to repair the cartilage. The procedure was delayed, the injury turned out to be more extensive than originally thought, the recovery time increased, and now the Lakers will open the season minus their starting center.

His head was thinking vacation escape when professionalism sitting on his other shoulder should have won out. Bynum has a job, he gets paid crazy money, and a major part of the job is being in the best shape possible. He skipped out on the responsibility.

Bynum said Saturday he hopes to return in late-November after missing a month of the regular season and coach Phil Jackson countered the absence will be more like two or three weeks, but it's not about the schedule. It's especially not about the schedule because they're the Lakers with a set opening lineup that doesn't need bonding time, championships are not decided at Thanksgiving and, most of all, they have proven they can win the title without him.

It's about a young player who seemed to gain so much respect for pushing through the postseason when retreat would have been understandable who just made himself a target of criticism from fans and media all over again. That's a big deal for Bynum and the Lakers on any page of the calendar.

"Obviously you want a player that you care about to be out there on the court come the start of the season," he said. "I hear it. But at the same time, I had to do what's good for me. I had to be ready as far as the surgery goes. I'm not going to get some stuff taken out and then run into another problem. The doctor just kind of took care of two birds with one stone there."

Indeed, the medical bulletin is that Bynum will be better in the long run for going with the more-extensive procedure rather than the fix that would have put him in uniform sooner. No one is questioning the medical process.

Plus, and it's a big plus, Jackson has thrown meaningful support behind Bynum. Jackson will cut up his biggest stars -- Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant -- and Bynum was an easy mark after choosing a vacation without crutches over matching the commitment the Lakers have always shown him. But the coach said he not only was OK with the timing but encouraged the South African getaway, and that halted a lot of additional criticism that undoubtedly would have landed on Bynum's head.

But the season ended June 17. He had the surgery July 28.

Bynum still could have had some down time before getting into the rehab grind. No one suggested a June 18 operation. But there's some compromise in there that would have allowed him to decompress from a long season while still making the Lakers, their worldwide fan base and -- oh, yeah -- the $13.7 million contract for this season the priority.

"Obviously [the criticism is] not unfair because you could get the surgery right after, the next day," he said. "But you had to be kind of ready to go into surgery. I don't think that's the thing you want to do coming off a long season and coming off the championship thing. I kind of took my time with it, and I'm fine."

He chose to be ready for vacation.

"I don't know if I'm going to be privileged enough or have the opportunity in four years to attend the World Cup," Bynum said. "To me, it was a special moment, and I went out there and I had a good time and now I'm back."

The longer recovery became the second blow to the original plan, but that could have at least been partly avoided if his job had been the priority. It's not that he is missing at least a large portion of November. It's why.

Point guard Derek Fisher, along with Bryant the emotional leader of the two-time defending champions, was asked if he had a problem with Bynum's prioritizing.

Fisher briefly paused.

"It's tough to speculate on what's going on in a guys' mind, as far as his body, his knee, how he feels about his situation," he said. "I guess from a team perspective it's disappointing because it maybe delays our ability to be as good as we want to be at certain points during the season. But overall, as long as he's healthy, as we move through this season and hopefully into December and the first part of the year, he starts to come around. We feel like we can still accomplish our goals."

Perhaps with Bynum healthy, and maybe even completely focused.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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