Amid the din of Pau-a-palooza 2010, as the unofficial king of Barcelona returned to his hometown amid throngs of delighted Spanish fans, came a dose of somber Lakers news.
It's not going to happen this season, the Lakers hope, but Andrew Bynum might be forced to play limited minutes as a career situational player if he suffers one more serious knee injury, Coach Phil Jackson said Tuesday.
Bynum has experienced knee problems the last three years, each injury different but nonetheless representing a pattern that has forced Jackson to contemplate the big picture.
It wasn't overly rosy.
"We're hopeful that this is the time he's able to start playing consistently through a season," Jackson said. "If not, we're going to have to look at Andrew as a short-minute guy, somebody like Yao Ming who's going to be limited in the amount of minutes he plays."
Yao, 30, will be limited to 24 minutes a game this season for the Houston Rockets, and sometimes won't play the second night of back-to-back situations, to prevent further bone-related injuries that have cost him significant parts of the last five seasons.
Bynum, 22, also has a thick medical file. He sustained a briefly dislocated left kneecap that required surgery in 2008; a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee in 2009 that did not require surgery; and torn cartilage in his right knee that affected him in the 2010 playoffs and was operated on in July.
In the most recent procedure, Bynum's personal doctor, David Altchek, opted to sew up torn cartilage instead of removing it, a decision he made during the surgery with the hope it would be better in the long run for Bynum.
"If his knee doesn't hold up after having this process, then we'll have to think about what kind of minutes he can play in a career," Jackson said. "This would be a [fourth] consecutive year that things didn't go well. We're concerned. That's why we're giving this extra time, or the doctors asked for extra time for this to heal, so when this heals, his career can go forward instead of having these stops in the middle of the season."
Bynum recently said he might be out until December with his latest rehabilitation, though Jackson hoped his return would be more like mid-to-late November. Either way, the Lakers' center wouldn't begin weight-bearing activities until Oct. 25 at the earliest, Jackson said, and would need at least a few weeks after that to get into playing shape. The Lakers play the opening game of the season, against the Rockets, on Oct. 26.
Bynum is under contract for three more seasons and $44.7 million, though the third season is a $16.1-million team option.
He fought through his most recent injury after sustaining it in the first round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City, but admitted he had a penchant for getting hurt.
"I guess I am kind of injury-prone," he said at the time.
Bynum played all 82 regular-season games once in his first five NBA seasons. He was not available for comment Tuesday.
In fact, only a handful of Lakers players were available to talk as a swarm of Spanish journalists and broadcasters bore down on Kobe Bryant and, of course, Gasol, one of their favorite sons.
The Lakers were clearly nowhere near Hollywood, but the scene was like a red-carpet premiere.
Photographers pushed each other out of the way in an effort to get the perfect shot of Gasol, calling out his name and shouting, "Aqui, aqui" ("here").
One journalist asked Gasol to sign a soccer ball. Others hugged him and smiled warmly.
"Even the camera guys, they're all fans too," forward Ron Artest said, while watching the scene from afar. "They're all proud of him."
When it was time to give interviews, Gasol was ringed by reporters, four rows deep.
He grew up in Barcelona and became a national sports icon by leading the Spanish national team to international acclaim and, of course, helping the Lakers win two consecutive NBA championships.
The Lakers play an exhibition against Regal FC Barcelona on Thursday at Palau Sant Jordi, where gymnastics, volleyball and handball were held in the 1992 Olympics. The Lakers practiced Tuesday at Palau Blaugrana, the Olympic venue for roller hockey, judo and taekwondo that year.