Andrew Bynum’s return date to Lakers remains a question


So, when exactly is Andrew Bynum returning?

The Lakers’ center is running out of games before the regular season ends next Wednesday.

“I’m just not holding my breath on a timetable,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Tuesday after practice. “Obviously, we’d like to have him play a couple games at the end of the [regular] season, but this morning I told him if that’s not possible, we’ll take whatever we can get in the playoffs at that time.”

Bynum has sat out the last eight games because of a strained left Achilles’ tendon, the Lakers going 4-4 without him and possibly facing San Antonio and Tim Duncan in the first round of the playoffs.

Another MRI exam Monday confirmed there was no tear in Bynum’s tendon, though the team said there was no timetable for his return.

Bynum gave a brief interview as he left the Lakers’ training facility, saying his injury felt “about the same” while holding a cellphone to his ear and saying he was in a rush to get to a promotional appearance.

Bynum will go on the Lakers’ upcoming two-game trip but is not expected to play Thursday in Denver or Friday in Minnesota.

If he doesn’t play again in the regular season, he will have gone almost a month without any game action by the time the Lakers are expected to begin the playoffs April 18. He was injured in a March 19 game against Minnesota.

“There’s discomfort after he does a certain amount of exercise,” Jackson said. “He can start off getting up off his toes and doing some activity and then it will start getting tender and sore.”

Bynum’s absence is causing a trickle-down effect. Pau Gasol is forced to move from his natural spot of power forward to his less effective spot at center, Lamar Odom shifts from the bench to starting power forward, and the Lakers’ reserves move from adequate to seemingly helpless, their latest gaffe coming when they were outscored by San Antonio’s reserves last Sunday, 20-4.

Bynum sat out 32 games last season because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee but returned with three games left in the regular season and played every playoff game.

This injury is less severe, Jackson said.

“He doesn’t see that it’s going to be a serious thing that’s going to linger or have any kind of ramifications for his future or career or anything like that,” Jackson said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Bynum, 22, is averaging 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game this season.

It won’t be difficult to assimilate him back into the lineup when he returns, Gasol said.

“It won’t be as hard as last year,” Gasol said. “The injury is not as complicated as it was last year. Hopefully, he can come back before the regular season’s over so he can get back in the flow of things and get into a rhythm.”

Expensive words

Jackson wasn’t exactly contrite after the NBA hit him with a $35,000 fine.

“I highly endorse it,” Jackson said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing to do.”

He was being sarcastic.

The problem began when referee Bennett Salvatore gave Kobe Bryant a technical foul while the Lakers guard mildly disputed a foul call on Ron Artest in the second quarter Sunday against San Antonio.

“Didn’t look like Kobe berated him at all,” Jackson said after the game, a 100-81 Lakers loss. “But with Bennett, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

What about Tex?

Tex Winter, the modern-day architect of the triangle offense, had to stop being an active consultant with the Lakers after suffering a stroke last April, but Jackson always remembers him with an annual crusade whenever the newest Hall of Fame class is announced.

“It’s like Tex says, he’s outlived all his contemporaries,” Jackson said. “There’s no indication that there’s a movement toward” induction.

Winter is part of the Hall of Fame as a “contributor,” but Jackson wants him to be honored as a coach.