Phil Jackson's comments on Bynum reveal frustration more than anger
Relaxed at the beginning of training camp, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson sat before reporters and remarked why he wasn't upset that Andrew Bynum's wouldn't be fully healthy to start the season as he rehabilitates from a surgically repaired knee.
"The end result is what it's going to be like in May and June," Jackson said. "That's the important part."
In a stressful state of mind toward the end of the first month of the regular season, Jackson stood before reporters and lamented Bynum's prolonged timetable, the latest being that he would return to the court in three weeks, around Christmas.
"We had hoped it would be three weeks about three weeks ago," Jackson said before the Lakers' 95-92 loss Sunday to the Indiana Pacers. "We're just waiting until everything gets together."
As training camp opened, Jackson said he had no problem with Bynum holding off surgery until after attending the World Cup in South Africa, didn't fault for Bynum's surgery postponing from July 18 to July 28 because his doctor wasn't available and pointed out the delayed timetable pointed to an organization-wide miscalculation regarding his surgery.
"We encouraged him to go there," Jackson said of Bynum's trip to the World Cup. "It's something that after an eight-month season, it's fun for these guys to get out."
Jackson revealed his testiness after The Times' Mark Heisler reminded him he approved of Bynum's South Africa trip moments after accusing him of showing up late for his surgery, adding, "This is something that was supposed to take place after the season and he was supposed to be ready by the season."
"He was back in time after that," Jackson said. "There was plenty" of time.
You may believe Jackson's revised comments reek of insincerity for blasting Bynum regarding the same circumstances that initially caused Jackson to defend him. Or you can chalk it up to Jackson trying to motivate Bynum as he continues his rehab, which entails an on-court workout Tuesday before the Lakers' game at Memphis. I agree with both points of view, but I don't agree with any sentiment whatsoever that frustration is waning thin within the organization on Bynum's return, at least more than already has been felt regarding Bynum's unpredictable timetables.
Jackson made that clear after Monday's practice when he stated Bynum's been a "very willing worker" during his rehab.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who's logged a team-leading 38 minutes per game and more than 40 minutes in the last three, confirmed that, agreeing that Bynum's 11-game absence at the beginning of last season because of a strained left hamstring reveals that the Lakers' frontline players believe it's more valuable to return fully healed than partially healthy.
"You obviously want to be out there and playing because that's what we love to do," Gasol said. "But at the same time, you don't want to hurt yourself by going too fast."
So what's gotten into Jackson? The answer is pretty clear. Although Jackson provided several quotes to provide enough connect-the-dot evidence that Bynum's in his dog house, Jackson's frustration mostly pointed to his feelings that his hands are tied.
He wants to cut minutes for Gasol and Lamar Odom. But he doesn't believe the Lakers have enough frontcourt depth to give them much-needed rest ("I just have to monitor some minutes out there than a little bit better than I've done," Jackson said). With Theo Ratliff expected to be sidelined for an additional three to five weeks, Jackson believes this provides a good opportunity for rookie Derrick Caracter. But he's mindful that he doesn't want to set him up for failure and derail his confidence ("I think he's confident in what he can do, but I don't know if he's confident in what we do all the time").
Jackson lamented the Lakers' unwillingness to acquire a back-up center. But he understands the reasoning, as recently reported by The Times' Mike Bresnahan, that the team would have to pay at least $35,000 a week both in player salary and luxury taxes ("It's not just in our card. There's certain things we can't do").
"We put all our eggs in the basket of Andrew coming back," Jackson summed up.
That led me to ask Jackson for clarification purposes if his frustration points to Bynum not taking the necessary steps to prevent this situation or the whole challenge in managing this problem.
"That's just the way it goes. You can't just bank on a medical process and think of it as a sure thing," said Jackson, an indictment on the organization as much as it is on Bynum, an opinion Jackson shared during training camp. "It's not a sure thing. It's a process where people have to heal and everything has to get better and you go forward from there. The only thing I'm frustrated about is the amount of time that Pau and Lamar have to spend on the court."
But that doesn't mean Bynum should rush his rehab in any way, an opinion Jackson still stressed to Bynum despite his public comments that suggested otherwise.
"I don't think that's a shot at me at all," Bynum said when told of Jackson's comments. "At the same time, he's told me to take my time. I think he just wants somebody on the team to step up."
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