Lakers back at it in blink of an eye
It’s strange how the months melt away so quickly, how a championship celebration feels as though it happened three days ago, not three months.
Even Kobe Bryant was dazed by the realization it was that time again, the Lakers reconvening Saturday in El Segundo with hopes of turning two consecutive championships into that trademarked Pat Riley phrase.
In between the revelations that Andrew Bynum would be out until late November and Ron Artest was, indeed, alive after a summer of celebrating, the Lakers looked into cameras, spoke into digital voice recorders and proclaimed the past was the past, no matter how quickly 100 days had expired.
“It’s kind of surreal that we’re back here already,” Bryant said. “It feels like just yesterday we had the parade.”
The Lakers began training camp without their 22year-old 7-footer, who said he wouldn’t be back for two more months, a timetable that continued to shift for the worse in the eyes of Lakers fans, well beyond the Oct. 26 opener against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
“I see more toward the
end of November,” Bynum said. “The doctors are telling me this could be somewhere around there.”
He said he would need four more weeks of rehabilitating his knee before he could even get on the court. He has been criticized by Lakers followers and the media for having the surgery so late, getting his knee drained after the NBA Finals so he could attend soccer’s World Cup in South Africa and take a European vacation.
“Obviously, [the criticism is] because I could get the surgery the next day,” Bynum said. “But you kind of got to be 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 a championship. I kind of took my time with it, and I’m fine.”
The way the Lakers explain it, Bynum’s personal doctor, New York-based David Altchek, planned to cut away or shave a piece of torn cartilage in Bynum’s right knee. But upon beginning the procedure, he decided instead to sew up the tear, requiring a longer recovery period in return for better long-term stability in the area.
If Bynum returns by Nov. 26, he will have missed 15 games, but the surgery news isn’t all bad for the Lakers.
Bryant, who turned 32 last month, said his right knee felt strong since an arthroscopic procedure in July to remove loose bodies. The index finger on his right hand will, however, be a lingering issue as he enters his 15th NBA season.
Bryant broke a bone in the top part of the finger last December and was later bothered by an arthritic joint in the lower part of the finger. He pondered surgery but decided against it.
“It just takes too long to recover with the kind of surgery I need to do to fix it,” Bryant said. “To miss so much of the season for an injury I could play with doesn’t make any sense.”
The pain is still there whenever he is smacked on the finger, lasting a minute or two, Bryant said, but “I can handle it.”
Bryant might lightly wrap the finger during games and practices, but the wrap will not be as extensive as last season’s assortment of contraptions.
“My shot feels a lot better,” he said. “I can follow through with my fingers on the ball and get a better feel for it now than I did last year.”
Saturday was the equivalent of back-to-school day, with veteran acquisitions (Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff) mingling with fresh-faced rookies (secondround picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter) while the Lakers took turns doing interviews and photo shoots before their first practice of the season.
Interestingly, there was no talk of 72 victories, a trendy topic a year ago when the Lakers contemplated the Chicago Bulls’ indelible 72-10 mark in 1995-96. There was, however, discussion of the new-look Miami Heat, and Bryant sided with LeBron James’ decision to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach.
“I’m just excited for him because he seems to be happy,” he said. “All that other [criticism] stuff I didn’t like, because I thought everybody else was coming down a little hard on him.”
There was also Artest, whose post-Finals effervescence carried over into Saturday, when he spoke of an off-season consisting of dodge ball games, various singing performances and a jersey switch from No. 37 to No. 15, the number he wore in college and early in his NBA career.
Luke Walton also was upbeat, hoping he overcame back issues that plagued him most of last season, pointing to yoga and Pilates sessions as ways he strengthened his back this summer.
“We’re pretty much going into [the season] as if nothing’s wrong and see how it reacts,” he said. “I’ve been trying to put it in pretty extreme situations and it’s been holding up for me.”
All in all, Bryant’s point of view carried the day, as is often the case.
“The prime focus individually has always been just to forget about what happened the season before,” he said. “That’s what we did last year and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
Barnes spoke publicly for the first time since he was arrested this month on suspicion of domestic abuse in an incident involving his fiancee in Sacramento.
“It won’t affect my play at all, or with missing any kind of games,” he said. “My [court] date has been set on the 18th of next month. We’ll find out what’s going on then. But we’ve been cooperating and everything should be fine.”
Center Andrew Bynum is reflected in the NBA championship trophy at the Lakers’ practice facility.