Just like last season, the Lakers' chances of winning a championship may hinge on the health of Andrew Bynum, who has been out since February with a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Coach Phil Jackson said recently that Bynum could be at least a few weeks away from returning. Now, I'm no doctor, of course, but at the Playboy Mansion on Saturday, the Lakers' 7-foot center looked to be well on the road to recovery.
While the Lakers were in Atlanta preparing for what would be an 86-76 loss to the Hawks on Sunday, Bynum was in Los Angeles mingling at a pajamas and lingerie party after the Playboy Golf Finals.
Wearing a green smoking jacket and slippers, Bynum, whose injury status is generating daily headlines in Los Angeles, partied like a rock star near the infamous grotto.
He picked up Playmate Nicole Narain and placed her on his shoulders and got somebody to take a picture with his digital camera.
Upper-body strength, check.
He hopped over a velvet rope near the DJ booth so he could take a picture with Narain and other Playmates who ended up sitting on his lap.
Jumping ability, check.
He sidestepped a few of the roaming cameras and got down with some Playmates on the checkered dance floor set up in the backyard.
Lateral movement, check.
Later, with lines around the bar getting longer, he pulled out a bottled beverage from one pocket and four plastic cups from another and offered up drinks to three Playmates who were with him.
Ability to adjust to game situations, check.
The scene reminded me of seeing pitcher Brad Penny at the mansion last season during a Dodgers game while he was on the disabled list. When I asked Penny if he was keeping track of the game, he took one look at his surroundings and said, "No, would you?"
If Bynum isn't healthy enough to play, should he be able to live out his Playboy fantasy in the meantime? Maybe, but while he's rehabbing his injury and the Lakers play shorthanded without him, perhaps it'd be wise for him to keep a low profile and sit out a couple of pajama parties. The grotto and Playmates will still be there. The Lakers can only hope the same can be said for Bynum come playoff time.