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Criticism regarding Andrew Bynum's surgery is understandable, but misguided

September 26, 2010 |  8:00 am


Lakers center Andrew Bynum stood near center court Saturday at the team's practice facility in El Segundo bearing a smile on his face. Surely, he knew the firing squad (the press) aimed, ready to barrage him with a litany of questions: his timetable after having offseason surgery on his right knee, why he didn't have an operation earlier and whether this serves as the latest chapter of "Andrew Bynum -- Many Injuries and Failed Recoveries."

Yet, he appeared as content as most players are during the first day of training camp, except he's entering the 2010-11 season with serious setbacks. Bynum shared in a matter-of-fact tone he's not expecting to play in a game until the end of November (missing eight pre-season games and as many as 18 regular-season contests). He reported that doctors told him he needed an additional four  weeks of rest before practicing. And he held zero regrets about how he handled his offseason surgery.

"Obviously, [people] want a player that they care about to be out there on the court come the start of the season," Bynum said. "I hear it, but at the same time, I had to do what's good for me and had to be ready as far as the surgery goes."

Bynum's level of thinking has created quite a reaction among writers and fans, who argue this serves as the latest example of Bynum's entitled attitude. He had surgery after attending the World Cup and Europe. He enters the 2010-11 season with yet another rehab process. And the situation doesn't exactly set the right tone for a team trying to three-peat.

The points those people have made have some validity, but they're misguided for several reasons I outline below. Bynum shouldn't be blamed for what amounts to a collective miscalculation among himself, the Lakers and the doctors for an event that's simply circumstantial.

Let's just start with the facts here. Bynum planned to have his surgery July 18 for the torn cartilage in his right knee he suffered during the 2010 playoffs, a date Phil Jackson said this week Bynum ran by both to him and General Manager Mitch Kupchak for approval during his exit interview. During that meeting, Bynum also brought up his desire to go to the World Cup, a plan Jackson actually liked because he thought it'd help Bynum relieve his stress and fatigue.

56345968The first step that didn't go according to plan involved the date of the surgery because Bynum's doctor, Dr. David Altchek, based in New York, didn't have an available date until July 28. Both defenders and critics regarding Bynum's surgery understand this situation. What they don't agree on, however, involves why Bynum originally planned surgery for July 18 when the Lakers won the championship on June 17, leaving him about a month's span of time to have the operation. Here's where the translation gets lost. Bynum doesn't do himself any favors when he openly acknowledges, "I don't know if I'm privileged enough to have the opportunity in four years to attend a World Cup. To me, I had a special moment. I had a good time and now I'm back." With Bynum willingly admitting and expressing no regrets for attending the World Cup, the tidbit perfectly feeds into the storyline that he cares more about his individual pleasures than what's best for the team.

But I guarantee you this: Had Kobe Bryant's rehabilitation gone longer than expected after getting arthroscopic surgery this offseason on his right knee, the criticism wouldn't ring as loudly toward the Black Mamba. Coincidentally, he also didn't have surgery until after attending the World Cup.The bottom line is that players deserve a vacation after a long season. In Bynum's case, he needed to mentally recharge from all the built up fatigue and pain he accumulated during the playoffs. Having surgery immediately after the season would only fuel his exhaustion even more because the operation itself requires energy and the rehab process would only exacerbate matters. Some may argue that had Bynum started the rehab process early, he would've had time to be fully healthy before training camp started. But he'd be doing it with very little stamina, leaving him vulnerable to other consequences down the road.

"The criticism isn't unfair because you could get the surgery the next day," said Bynum, whose rehabilitation involves lifting weights for his upper body, biking and abstaining from running and physical contact. "But you have to be ready to go into surgery. I don't think that's the thing that you want to do coming off a long season, coming off a championship. I took my time with it and I'm fine."

56333342Bynum's decision to go to the World Cup for vacation has zero bearing on his injury, anyway. This isn't Vladimir Radmanovic injuring himself while snowboarding. Bynum drained his knee before flying to South Africa and he experienced zero setbacks. The only reason the rehab process has taken longer is because Dr. Atcheck noticed the knee had worsened because of Bynum's activity during the playoffs. So, as Bynum put it, Atcheck killed two birds with one stone. Atcheck's original plan to cut away a piece of torn cartilage in Bynum's right knee soon deviated to sewing up the tear completely, hence requiring a longer recovery process to ensure better long-term health of his knee.

Now does that mean Bynum could've vacationed somewhere else instead of South Africa and Europe to ensure an earlier surgery date? Sure, but you shouldn't criticize Bynum with 20/20 hindsight. He was specifically told what his timetable entailed and he made his decision based on that. Judging by how much he showed he cared about his standing with the team during last year's post-season run, I'm convinced that had Bynum known ahead of time he'd possibly see a longer timetable, he  would've tried scheduling his surgery up a few weeks earlier to ensure enough rest and time to fully recover.

It's reasonable to criticize Bynum all you want for perhaps not leaving any room for worst-case scenarios from a tactical standpoint. But seeing this as an indictment on Bynum's commitment level seems as short-sighted as saying Bryant doesn't care if he hurts the team by not having surgery on his right index finger. Bynum weighed the variables of restoring his fatigue and mental health versus getting surgery in the same fashion Bryant assessed he'd rather play with a dinged-up finger (albeit healthier than last year) than have surgery that would entail a significant long-term rehabilitation process. Bynum wanted rest and a complete procedure so his knee wouldn't experience any future mishaps. Bryant believes he can play through his finger and the injury won't severely inhibit his effectiveness.

All that matters is how healthy the two are at the end of the season, anyway. Based on Bynum's extensive injury history, unfortunately, it's not safe to presume he'll be injury free for the rest of the season once he returns to the court. But don't blame that on Bynum's surgery schedule and attendance at the World Cup. The approach Bynum took served as the best choice based on the information that he had at the time. And much like he valiantly handled his post-season injury, Bynum will make the most of his circumstances with his rehab and his return. Just wait and see.

-- Mark Medina

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Photos, from top: Andrew Bynum is swamped by reporters during Lakers media day Saturday at the Toyota Sports Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times. Bynum is still recovering from off-season knee surgery and says he's not expected to return until late November. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times. Bynum holds his injured knee prior to the start of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on June 6. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times