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Ted Green: Did the Lakers gamble and lose on Andrew Bynum's knee?

May 24, 2010 |  2:07 pm
As you are about to see, it’s more than fair to ask this simple question:

Could a decision made by the Lakers’ medical staff to hold off performing what figured to be a routine arthroscopy on Andrew Bynum’s torn right-knee cartilage, potentially as early as May 2, perhaps end up costing the Lakers what they’re working so feverishly hard to achieve, their repeat championship?

Don’t think for even a second that quietly, privately, behind the scenes, members of the Lakers’ organization aren't  asking themselves that same provocative question, too.

From someone who has undergone eight arthroscopic knee surgeries (five on the right knee and three on the left), from someone who knows how a meniscal tear feels, how it inhibits your movement and determines what you are and are not able to do, how it prevents you from running at anything approaching full speed -- yes, that someone is me -- I can tell you without hesitation or equivocation that Bynum should not be in Phoenix, frustrated, physically compromised, his knee stiff and too often painful, bravely pretending everything is OK with him when it obviously isn’t OK at all.

Bynum should be in El Segundo, at Laker headquarters, rehabbing a knee he should have had fixed, arthroscopically, more than three weeks ago.

Twenty-three days ago, to be exact.

In fact, for argument’s sake, with a nice, standard four-week recovery, it’s quite possible Bynum could be playing far more effective minutes for the Lakers than he is right now … by next week.

That’s right, friends. The docs will naturally say otherwise to justify their original decision, but it’s all too clear now: Bynum should have had his knee scoped the day after the meniscal tear was diagnosed on May 1.

Second-guess?  Hindsight is 20-20?  Not at all.  I said it on May 2, the day the Lakers announced that it was torn.

Frustrated myself, I asked everyone in my circle who fervently follows the Lakers: Why doesn’t he go in and get that thing scoped today?! He’ll be back for the finals!

Brandon Roy of the Trail Blazers had his knee scoped and came back eight days later to play in the first round of these playoffs.  Even helped the Blazers win a game with a big performance.

Caveat: That doesn’t mean Bynum could come back in eight days.  At 280 pounds, or maybe 300, that’s a lot of weight to put on a recovering, surgically repaired joint. It’s easier for someone weighing around 210, as Roy does, to come back more quickly.

But what about five weeks to rest, ice, rehab and recover?

By my calculations, that would have put Bynum back on the court for no worse than Game 3 of a potential finals matchup against the Celtics during the second week of June.

And while Bynum’s length, size and massive bulk aren’t going to be essential to ultimately wear down the  Suns, you better believe the Lakers are going to need their 7-1 center against the ginormous, double tag team of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Big Baby Davis.

Bynum’s size and strength alone, even if he were still recovering and at only, say, 80% full speed, would make a tremendous difference against the Celtics, who rely on strength rather than speed.

But unfortunately, due to stiffness from that cartilage tear that can only, repeat ONLY, be fixed with an arthroscope and never just by rest, I don’t think Bynum is going to be able to provide any significant help against Boston’s behemoth front line.

And assuming it is Lakers-Celtics in the finals, Bynum’s ineffectiveness and Phil Jackson’s inability to trust him with important minutes -- that alone could easily turn out to be the difference between holding up that gold championship ball or holding a grudge for a medical decision that, while well intended and professionally made, turned out to be flat wrong.

Sadly for the Lakers and everyone in our city emotionally invested in winning another title and getting revenge against the loathsome Celtics, sitting Bynum out for a game or two against the Suns is not, repeat NOT, going to improve him physically for all-out war against the C’s.

For those of you who thankfully have not had to be scoped, then work hard to get full function back in your knee, here it is in black and white: Bynum could rest that cartilage tear for the rest of his natural life. Or if he finally decided to get up and run five years from now, the knee would still be just as stiff and essentially useless as it is today.  Actually stiffer, from the inevitable arthritic changes.

Surgery, that simple scope,  an outpatient procedure that sometimes takes less than half an hour from the administering of anesthesia to rolling the gurney into the recovery room, maybe 90 minutes to two hours total counting your time in recovery … that was the only thing that could have made Bynum viable, usable and possibly even impactful in these playoffs.

They passed on the chance, and if the Celtics do muscle their way to the title, we’ll never definitively know if a scope on May 2 or 3 would have changed the outcome.

Beyond a very curt and cursory comment that they didn’t think Bynum could recover in time with surgery, a statement that doesn’t quite jibe with quick recoveries made by many pro athletes, I don’t know if the Lakers’ medical staff is ever going to adequately explain to anxious Laker fans the thought process that went into this critical decision.

But I do know this:  Unless the Lakers surprise me and beat the Celtics, effectively without Bynum,  I, for one, will always have my suspicions about the fateful choice they didn’t make.

-- Ted Green

Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times and is currently senior sports producer for KTLA News.   A runner, tennis and baseball player and gym rat, he had his first of eight knee surgeries in 1980 and the last, he swears, in 2005.

Photo: Andrew Bynum on May 20. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.