Andrew Bynum injury taking toll on L.A.

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel as he nears a return from offseason surgery on his right knee.

But head coach Phil Jackson is right behind him beeping his horn.

Speaking before the Lakers played the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, Jackson said Bynum's extended absence is starting to take a toll on big men Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Gasol is averaging 38.7 minutes per game after averaging 37.0 last season. Odom is at 34.6 minutes per game after averaging 31.5 last season.

"We're playing Pau too many minutes [and we] don't have a backup for either he or Lamar right now, so that's a real problem," Jackson said. "We put all our eggs in the basket of Andrew coming back and we hoped he'd be back by this time, by Nov. 15, by Thanksgiving time, by [our last] road trip, etc. We don't know when Andrew is coming back."

On Saturday Bynum participated in his first full-contact workout since his July 28 operation and told reporters afterward that he planned on returning to game action within three weeks. Jackson refrained from adhering to his 23-year-old big man's timeline.

"We hoped that it would have been three weeks about three weeks ago," Jackson said. "So we're just waiting until everything kind of gets together and he gets on the court, and then we'll see what happens when he's on the court and practicing with us, and then we'll know approximately whether it's a week or two weeks or whatever away."

Jackson expressed frustration in the multiple delays that have been associated with Bynum's surgery. The operation was originally scheduled for July 18, but was pushed back 10 days beyond the date the team agreed upon.

"This is something that's supposed to take place after the season and he's supposed to be ready by the season and we built our team around that fact," Jackson said. "It wasn't by the end of exhibition season. It was like he would be able to start and go through preseason and go on with us. Well, everything got delayed. His operation wasn't done on time. Andrew was late to his operation. There was a whole myriad of things that have gone on in this thing."

The tone of Jackson's comments was in stark contrast to the support he showed for Bynum in late September before the start of training camp.

"I know he's getting battered a little bit and we could have had the operation a little bit earlier, he could have come in a little bit earlier, but the end result is what's he going to be like in May and June and that's the important part," Jackson said at the time.

Bynum's absence has been compounded by an injury to backup center Theo Ratliff. Ratliff, who had been averaging 8.4 minutes per game, underwent surgery on his left knee on Nov. 17 and is not expected to be back for another 3-5 weeks.

The team flirted with the idea of adding a stopgap center in the interim, but Jackson said they decided against that option.

"There are certain things we can do and the people that are out there that we can bring in don't look like they'll be an immediate help to us right off the bat," Jackson said. "It's not like we have someone around the corner that would be like a person that can step in and take minutes."

Jackson has used rookie Derrick Caracter -- an undersized center at 6-foot-9, 275 pounds -- sparingly, but doesn't feel like the first-year player is prepared enough to contribute significantly at this point.

"We really are putting a lot of trust in some guys that are inexperienced," Jackson said.

Jackson pointed to the zero points Gasol had in the fourth quarter on Friday against the Utah Jazz as a sign that the heavy usage is catching up to the 10-year veteran who has been filling in at center when he is a natural power forward. Gasol played 45 minutes in Utah.

"As we go forward with the road trip and this week with back-to-back road games, I'm going to have to be a better monitor of those guys," Jackson said.

Jackson said that Bynum's body responded well to its first real test Saturday.

"We're hopeful that in two weeks or a week or whatever that he's back on the court and we have the ability to judge whether he's going to be back and playing with us," Jackson said. "But right now, our team's got to go forward and play without him and these guys are ready and willing to do that."

He said the nature of Bynum's surgery has been partly to blame for the delay.

"The type of operation that he had was a very unique operation," Jackson said. "It's not something that's done often. This type of a surgery is not just a simple operation so that changed the complexity of all of it. Whether this is successful or not, we'll know. We still haven't seen if it's going to be a total success or not. He's still struggling to get back.

"That's just the way it goes. You just can't bank on a medical process being a sure thing. They're just not sure things. It's still a process where people have to go heal, everything has to get better and then you go forward from there. The only thing I'm frustrated about is the amount of time that Pau and Lamar have to spend on the court ... that makes it difficult for our team."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.