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Celtics notebook

O’Neal will seek second opinion on surgery

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 15, 2011

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After going through examinations with Celtics doctor Brian McKeon, Jermaine O’Neal learned that it would be in his best interest to have surgery on the swollen left knee that’s caused him to miss 22 games this season.

He will visit a doctor in New York Monday to get a second opinion, and may even call a third doctor in Miami before deciding whether to go through with the procedure Tuesday.

The decision hinges on whether the procedure will end his season. At this point, O’Neal is under the impression that if he has surgery next week, he won’t be able to return to the floor until the end of the regular season. If that turns out to be the case after he sees the doctor Monday, O’Neal will then consider whether it’s worth it continuing to play with the knee swelling every so often.

“I didn’t foresee this happening,’’ said O’Neal, who was signed by the Celtics for the midlevel exception after playing 70 regular-season games for the Miami Heat a year ago. “I think the decision of either being in [the lineup] or having surgery is really going to come down to, ‘Does the surgery put me clear from the injury?’ If it doesn’t put me clear from the injury, then I might as well play. That’s what it’s going to boil down to. Does it put me at a point where I can just go once I’m back on the court, or am I going to — two, three weeks later — be back in the same position.’’

Coach Doc Rivers agreed with O’Neal getting another opinion, and is more or less assuming that an operation would end O’Neal’s season.

“I think it’s the right course of action,’’ Rivers said. “Because, listen, surgery could mean never playing again. You never know that. So he’s trying to figure out a way, and we’re trying to figure out a way with Dr. McKeon and everybody, how we can get him on the floor.

“Even if it’s got to be, at the worst-case scenario, the way it’s been where he plays four or five games and has to sit out. If the news comes back that surgery means two months or more, then that’s basically it.’’

The knee issues cropped up Nov. 8 in Dallas, when it flared after he made a cut on the floor. O’Neal left that game after 11 minutes and missed nearly the next six weeks. He saw doctors in New York and Miami, he was fitted for different knee braces, and on Christmas Day he returned to the lineup. It took just three weeks for the knee to swell up again.

Refusing to describe the nature of the procedure he’d need, O’Neal said the knee had already been drained of fluid at different points this season. He also expressed regrets with not going through with the surgery when the knee first bothered him.

“That was one of the conversations that we did have,’’ he said. “At first, it’s almost a shock to the system when someone says surgery because there’s a chance that you may not come back.

“The first thing I thought was I almost missed two months the first time I was out. I could have basically did it then and been looking at a situation where that’s all behind me and I don’t have to deal with that anymore. At the end of the day, you have to deal with the decision you make as a person.’’

When they were teammates in Indiana, Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson recalled O’Neal playing through the injuries that are now catching up with him.

“I remember in Indiana, in the playoffs, he was taking shots to play,’’ said Jackson. “I know that he played hurt for at least two or three years. It’s sad it’s starting to catch up with him, but I’d rather have a guy that’s going to put it on the line and play hurt sometimes than someone who won’t.’’

With season-ending surgery in mind, Rivers’s preference is to have O’Neal on the floor.

“Unless they say it’s one of those cleanups and he’s back in four weeks, that’s completely different,’’ Rivers said. “But if they come back and it’s a two-month or 10-week thing, then we’ve just got to be realistic on his chances of playing.’’

Appealing looks Rajon Rondo hit on his league-leading assist average (13.4) last night, providing 13 assists to go with 18 points in a 99-94 victory over the Bobcats.

“There was a couple things he saw that I didn’t see and I liked what he saw better, and we went with it,’’ Rivers said. “Those are good nights for a coach, I can tell you that. It’s just the flow of the game. Sometimes guys get that, and sometimes they don’t. But when he gets it, it’s really good because we can establish a pace.’’

Rondo hit a rare 3-pointer (his seventh of the season) that put the Celtics up, 87-76, with 5:25 left, but his 18-footer from the elbow with 2:48 to go was the shot Rivers was looking for.

“I’m not worried about his 3-point game. I’m worried about his elbow game,’’ Rivers said. “That’s what he made out of a timeout, which was a big shot for us.’’

Drumming up rhythm Glen Davis’s shots have been a hot-button issue since he’s filled in for Kevin Garnett in the starting lineup. He was 4 of 10 last night, getting more layups rather than pulling up for long jumpers.

“He’s just going to get in that rhythm,’’ Rivers said. “And what’s amazing is every time he passed the jumper up and went and set another pick, he actually got it back for easy shots and layups and that’s what we’re trying to get him to see. It’s not like he’s trying to be selfish or anything. He’s just trying to figure it out, and we’re trying to help.

Working way back The Celtics will have one practice over the weekend, and Rivers will use it to see how good Garnett looks after missing more than two weeks with a strained right calf. The plan is still to play Garnett Monday against the Magic . . . The Celtics assigned rookie Avery Bradley to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League . . . Semih Erden was active last night, even though he missed Thursday’s practice with a pulled groin. He even saw the floor in the first quarter — and picked up three fouls in four minutes. His final line: 8 minutes 24 seconds, 5 fouls, 0 points, and 0 rebounds.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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