Mihm is fit and ready to find his role on team

Times Staff Writer

There was a time when Chris Mihm was the Lakers’ starting center, when he was athletic and mobile.

That was three years, three surgeries and countless frustrating moments ago.

Mihm is back healthy, his surgically repaired right ankle no longer an issue.

“I’ve been running around with a smile on my face,” Mihm said. “That hasn’t happened in two years.”

Mihm, 29, missed the 2006-07 season and has played in just 82 games the last three seasons.


He twice had surgery on his right ankle, one reconstructive. He had surgery on his right heel. He underwent three weekly sonar-wave treatments last season and still felt persistent pain.

The screw placed in the ankle was removed in February, the first positive sign for Mihm.

He returned home to Austin, Texas, this summer and worked out at his alma mater, Texas , and found himself fit for the first time in years.

“I’m playing above the rim again, which is fun,” Mihm said. “The last two years have been very frustrating for me, to say the least. Besides three surgeries, every time I’ve come back, I’ve been a shadow of the way I used to play.”

Mihm averaged career highs in points (10.2) and minutes (26.1) as the starting center during the 2005-06 season. He played in 59 games before the ankle injury.

Each time Mihm tried to come back, he had been robbed of everything.

“Being an athletic player, someone that’s used to moving and playing above the rim, I was just running around setting picks and I couldn’t get my hands on balls,” said Mihm, who is in the last year of a contract that pays him $2.5 million. “That made everything that much harder to take.”

The Lakers have moved on at center.

Andrew Bynum is the starter. Pau Gasol, who played the position last year, moves to power forward but will be the backup. DJ Mbenga gives the Lakers added depth.


Coach Phil Jackson said it’s “hard to determine” what role Mihm will play.

Said Mihm: “I relish whatever my role is going to be. Obviously I want to be as big a part of this team as I can be. My ego is in check. I can handle whatever role I’m going to have to take.”

Powell has energy

Josh Powell is a beast on the backboards.

After four days of practice, Powell has attacked the basketball relentlessly.

“That’s something that I felt I was capable of doing, rebounding,” Powell said recently. “It’s just trying to out-work anybody on both ends. It’s just effort. It’s just bringing the energy.”

Funny Powell would use the word energy.

The player he replaced at backup power forward, Ronny Turiaf, was known for that.

The Lakers think Powell, who played for the Clippers last season and averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, can provide that and more.

That’s why they signed him to a two-year, $1.814-million contract; $200,000 is guaranteed.

“Turiaf had his one way of doing what he did, and he did it well,” Powell said. “We are two different guys.

“We bring energy in our own ways. I have my own way of bringing energy. Hopefully the way I do things works just as well as what he did.”

Fatigue hits Sun

Jackson walked up to rookie Sun Yue after practice Saturday and said, “Sun, you got real tired.”


Sun, a second-round pick of the Lakers in 2007 from China, was cleared to practice after doctors said his type of mononucleosis was no longer contagious.

Sun participated in a few drills Saturday.

“After running, my body feels like it just wants to kill me,” Sun said in English. “My legs are sore. I think I’m going to be fine. Maybe it’s just going to take some time. Maybe in a week, maybe my body will adjust better.”


Sasha Vujacic, who suffered a moderate sprained left ankle during Tuesday night’s practice, still has difficulty going full speed. Jackson said Vujacic has no swelling in the ankle and went through several drills with no problem. . . . Jackson said Kobe Bryant, who decided against having surgery for a torn ligament in his right pinkie, has not “been shooting the ball well” in practice, but that his “game speed is there.” Jackson also said that Gasol has looked “impressive” in practice. . . . Today is the final of six two-a-day practices for the Lakers.