|Wednesday, September 11
O'Neal's recovery time still pegged at 6-8 weeks
LOS ANGELES -- After almost three months of indecision, Shaquille O'Neal finally had surgery on his chronically sore big toe Wednesday and could miss the beginning of the season.
Recovery and rehabilitation time for the Los Angeles Lakers' center is expected to be 6-to-8 weeks, said Dr. Robert Mohr, who removed bone spurs from a joint on the arthritic right big toe at at UCLA's Outpatient Surgery Center.
That means O'Neal could miss the three-time defending NBA champion Lakers' regular-season opener against San Antonio on Oct. 29. If he had surgery earlier, he probably would have been at full speed by the time the season began.
O'Neal has said he delayed the operation until he had checked out all the options and spoken with a number of doctors.
"He was deciding what to do, and was getting some conflicting opinions,'' Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "When he finally made the decision, he was completely comfortable with it.''
Kupchak and the rest of the Lakers breathed a sigh of relief after doctors deemed the surgery a success, with Mohr saying, "We're very confident he's going to have a complete recovery.''
"When we saw the doctors come out smiling, I think we were all relieved -- the team, Shaquille's people, everybody,'' Kupchak said.
The often mischievous O'Neal was in a jovial mood right after the operation, "Joking, just being Shaq,'' Kupchak said.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson was among those visiting O'Neal, but he did not speak to reporters.
The NBA Finals MVP for the past three years as he led the Lakers to three titles, O'Neal was hampered by the injury during most of the regular season and playoffs.
He missed 15 games and tried a combination of medication, orthotics and other treatments to ease the pain, but no method was completely effective.
O'Neal was on the injured list twice last season because of his toe. He averaged 27.2 points and 10.7 rebounds -- both slightly below his career averages -- and usually wasn't as mobile on defense as in past years.
The surgery, called a cheilectomy, was not unusual, but Mohr acknowledged it was important in O'Neal's case.
"This is the way he makes his livelihood. This is pretty significant for him,'' the doctor said.
The doctor said O'Neal would be able to walk immediately in what he called a surgical shoe that keeps the foot dry. In about two weeks, he will be able to use an exercise bike for cardiovascular fitness.
In two to three weeks, O'Neal should be able to wear a regular tennis shoe and then, about six weeks from now, he should be able to resume running, Mohr said.
Asked how he felt about operating on such a celebrated patient, Mohr said, "I'm glad this day, this surgery is over.''
Instead of trying to sign a big man to fill in for O'Neal, Kupchak said the Lakers probably will use forwards Samaki Walker and Stanislav Medvedenko at center until O'Neal returns, and that the team might even go with a small lineup at times.
The Lakers will rely on doctors to tell them when O'Neal is ready to play again, and neither the Lakers nor O'Neal will rush his return, Kupchak said.