Andrew Bynum’s (Healthy) Offseason

For the first time since 2007, Andrew Bynum is heading into an offseason with a clean bill of health.

This is no small victory for Bynum, or for the Lakers, who could consider their 7-foot center’s current medical report the best news going after being unexpectedly swept out of the second round of the playoffs.

In the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010, Bynum was either recovering from surgery, or about to head under the knife, but as he detailed in his exit interview, the word “rehabilitation” is no longer an essential part of his offseason vocabulary:

It’s going to change greatly how I approach the summer because I’m going to be able to work on my own. I don’t have to go through rehab, I don’t have to sit down for four months … physically I feel great, I have no injuries going into the summer. On that note, I’m definitely looking forward to becoming a better player.

In other words, it’s easier to work on one’s game when exercises can include back-to-the-basket moves instead of impact-free leg lifts in a tub of water.

One caveat: Bynum won’t have a chance to show just how strong and healthy he is until the sixth game of the coming season, due to the five-game suspension levied upon him for his dangerous shove of Mavs guard J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the Western Semi’s. The New Jersey native shared his regret about that play in his previously linked exit interview, but aside from that negative, Bynum was feeling quite good individually due in large part to his healthy-feeling body.

To understand why, we traced his previous four offseasons:

2007: After playing all 82 games in 2006-07, starting 53, Bynum had his last clean bill of health, and was able to do whatever he wanted to prep for 2007-08, when Pau Gasol was still in Memphis.

2008: Just when he began to play the best basketball of his career, Bynum suffered a subluxated patella on 1/13 against Memphis, causing him to miss the remaining 46 regular season games and the entire postseason, in which L.A. ultimately lost to Boston in the Finals. Bynum didn’t actually have the surgery until May 21, as he and the team first wanted to see if he were able to play on it in the postseason. As such, he spent the summer rehabilitating his left knee.

2009: For the second straight season, Bynum hurt a knee against Memphis in January, this time tearing his right MCL on 1/31. He did return for the final four games of the regular season, however, and then played in all 23 playoff games, starting 18, to average 6.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 0.91 bpg in 17.4 min, as L.A. ultimately beat Orlando in the Finals. In his exit interview heading into that offseason, Bynum relayed the difference between his two knee injuries: “Last year I had the surgery and rehab went smooth, this one was a tear and just takes a lot more time. I wanted to make it back, so I took it to the court maybe a little sooner than my trainer wanted me to,” he said. “Even though I didn’t play my best ball, I got to understand the next level. The intensity was (so much higher), it was (great to experience).”

Bynum showed that his knee was not at 100 percent when he elected not to participate in Team USA workouts that summer, focusing instead upon rehabilitation.

2010: After a mostly-health regular season in which Bynum did miss 13 games due to a left Achilles strain suffered on 3/19, he tore part of the lateral meniscus in his right knee in Game 6 of L.A.’s Round 1 victory over Oklahoma City. Opting to play through the pain for the rest of the playoffs, Bynum averaged 8.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and 1.57 bpg while playing 24.4 mpg in 23 games, helping L.A. to a second-straight title. He wasn’t quite himself, however, and underwent surgery following a trip to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup that would end up keeping him out of the first part of the following season.

2011: Indeed, surgery to correct the meniscus tear of his right knee ended up being more complicated than originally expected, causing Bynum to miss the first 24 games of the 2010-11 regular season. He also suffered a bone bruise against Boston on 1/31, causing him to miss one game, and a separate bone bruise to his right knee suffered on 4/12 against San Antonio that cause him to miss only the regular season finale. Yet Bynum looked strong throughout the playoffs, averaging postseason bests 14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.4 bpg in 32.0 mpg, his best and most healthy individual postseason of his career.

It’s the 23-year-old’s hope that health going into the offseason healthy will allow him to build up the strength of his muscles, particularly those surrounding his knee, to better prevent potential injuries once the 2011-12 season begins.

And so, on a Monday in May, we can imagine Bynum in a gym somewhere shooting jumpers, lifting weights, working on his left-handed hook, or really doing anything other than rehabilitating a knee.