BOSTON -- Boston Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal said Friday that he will decide on Tuesday whether or not he will undergo surgery on his injured left knee, which has caused him to miss 21 games this season.
O'Neal has already met with Celtics team doctor Brian McKeon and will seek a second opinion on Monday, and quite possibly a third opinion from another doctor in Miami via telephone, before ultimately deciding whether or not he will have an operation performed. O'Neal said that he would prefer to try to play through the injury and will resort to surgery only if he can be guaranteed that the operation will solve the problem completely.
"Surgery is the worst-case scenario for me," said O'Neal. "If it's going to elevate me and get me out of this mode, then I'm all for it. If you can't guarantee me that it's going to get me out of this mode, then I'm not going to do it."
O'Neal would not reveal what the actual injury is -- "I'll tell you Tuesday," he said repeatedly -- suggesting that he does not want external media debate as he contemplates his decision. O'Neal said the initial injury occurred earlier in the season while he was cutting on the court and reaffirmed that it did not happen in the offseason.
"I felt good coming into the season; I didn't have any issues over the summertime," said O'Neal. "I let go, I trained extremely hard and got into the season and had a situation where I cut, I was almost cutting on the court, and all of a sudden my knee flared up."
Recovery time is another reason O'Neal is shying away from surgery. He said that if he underwent an operation, he would be out for "a while," most likely returning with only a few weeks left in the regular season. Such an absence, however, would likely limit O'Neal's effectiveness in the postseason, which is a chief concern of his.
"If you miss basically the rest of the season, there's no way you can really help the team going into the playoffs," O'Neal said. "There's just no way because the team already has a nice rhythm, rotations [are] set -- you don't want to interrupt that. You can't play your way back into rhythm in the playoffs because every game, every possession really counts. So I'm looking at it in that manner. I never want to be in that position."
O'Neal has the support of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who agreed with his decision to seek a second opinion.
"I think that's what he should do," said Rivers. "We've already talked about it. I think it's the right course of action. Surgery could mean never playing again, you never know that. He's trying to figure out a way and we're trying to figure out a way, with Dr. McKeon and everybody, on how we can get him on the floor, even if it's got to be the worst-case scenario, the way it's been, where he plays, you know, four or five games and has to sit out.
"If the news comes back through all of [the doctors] -- and we don't know this, obviously -- but if the news comes back with surgery means two months or more, and that's basically [the end of the regular season]. Because two months -- everyone thinks when we say two months that means you play in two months. No, that means you start working out in two months."
If the situation does continue as it currently stands, with O'Neal attempting to play through the injury, he said he's ready to contribute as much as he can.
"My first goal is be here and compete, and if I can get by helping the team even at 50 percent, I'm willing to help the team at 50 percent," O'Neal said. "I'm willing to jeopardize a bit of my health long-term to have the chance at winning a championship this year.
"My preference is to play; play and get through it. Take the minutes that I need to play. You don't get this opportunity very often. That's how I see it. That's probably the most difficult position to be in because you know you make decisions now that you may have to pay for a little bit down the road. Sometimes it's worth it. I think that it's hard to find a situation like this where you have a team that's legitimately supposed to win [the championship]."
January has been and will continue to be a busy month for the Celtics. They've played eight games already and have another eight games to go. The hectic schedule has hindered O'Neal's ability to get the necessary rest and monitor the swelling around his injured knee. If O'Neal elects not to have surgery performed, he could have an easier time managing the knee in February -- a month in which the Celtics will play only 11 total games and will also have the benefit of the five-day All-Star break.
"We wanted to get through January," O'Neal said. "January's rough. Getting to February, where we have time to rehab, where we have time to really condition the body, have time to really work on some of the things that, right now, we just don't really have the time. We're just trying to keep the swelling down, maintain the swelling on days off, and it's hard to do that."
Fellow center Shaquille O'Neal understands his namesake's value to the team, but was optimistic about the impending return of center Kendrick Perkins, who should be back on the court around the All-Star break. Perkins will help to shore up the gap in the middle and he'll have help from rookies Semih Erden and Luke Harangody.
"It's detrimental," Shaq said of Jermaine being out of the lineup. "But it's a chance for Semih and Luke to step up. We gotta deal with it. [Kendrick Perkins] will be back in a couple weeks, so we'll be fine."
Greg Payne is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.