We've mentioned this before, but over the course of his career it has become clear there are few things in this world more unreliable than a time table for Andrew Bynum's return delivered by Andrew Bynum. In fairness, pinpointing his various recoveries, whether for this most recent injuries or the ones coming before, has long evolved into a sort of parlor game. And in fairness, when it comes to knee problems- particularly knees attached to giant, seven foot bodies- forecasting is hardly an exact science.
So really, it should come as no surprise to hear the "late November" preseason target for Bynum's 2010-'11 debut won't be met, but as Dave McMenamin reports, his expectation is to return at some point before Christmas. Bynum has begun individual drills and straight-ahead running ("no lateral stuff," he says) and will rejoin the team on the practice floor "hopefully" by next week's Thanksgiving holiday. Give or take.
Don't treat any of these dates as the gospel. Instead, save your sanity: When you see Bynum on the practice court, you'll know he's improving. When you see him dress for a game, you'll know he's back.
In the meantime, knowing Bynum is probably a month from returning only emphasizes the need to find ways to shave down Pau Gasol's timecard. Even after calling it a night playing just under 33 minutes in Wednesday's mauling of the Pistons, Gasol still ranks 10th across the league in minutes played per game, at 38.7. In a season where every other Lakers starter has seen his playing time shrink (Lamar Odom's minutes are up overall, but comparing games started this season to last, he's playing less), Gasol's have increased.
To pick a completely arbitrary date, were Bynum to return for December 19th's visit to Toronto, he'd miss another 15 games. A fairly long time to operate without a real backup center, now that Theo Ratliff is on the sidelines for at least another month. Particularly since the upcoming schedule includes teams with enough size to make it hard for the Lakers to cheat a little by having Odom play spot minutes as a center, not necessarily the most practical alternative. Even if they were so inclined, now isn't exactly the time to be piling more on L.O.'s shoulders. Diagnosed with a painful-but-manageable bone bruise on his right foot earlier this week, the Lakers can't afford to risk Odom's ability to continue playing.
His minutes need to be monitored as well.
With all that in mind, it makes sense for the Lakers to dip into the free agent waters- likely via the D-League- for a big, perhaps signing him to a 10-day contract until Bynum's timetable really does clear up. Who they'd get, I have no idea, but I'm pretty confident it won't be Erick Dampier, the biggest name by a mile amongst free agent centers. Damp might be overrated as a starting piece and his fitness is a major question mark, but for what the Lakers need- a temporary short-minutes backup five and a long term third-stringer, Dampier is probably overqualified. He won't get meaningful minutes in L.A., and I don't think he's a guy you want sitting at the end of the bench.
A little too surly for that, I think.
Instead, a young, hungry player who will work hard and blow the top off the "just happy to be here" scale seems a better choice. McMenamin did yeoman's work assembling a list of potential names. Maybe you have a favorite. Mine is former Nebraska center Marcus Cousin, who is, at least alphabetically speaking, 80 percent of highly touted Sacramento rookie big DeMarcus Cousins. Sounds like a bargain to me.
They won't find anyone to substantively drop Gasol's minutes, but even a little might help. And I'm sure Phil Jackson will periodically use Derrick Caracter, or find even smaller lineups and try to push the pace, should matchups allow. This, though, is a bit of a scary time for the Lakers. While they're rich in talent up front, there are some depth questions at the moment. Roster management is a primary concern.