Boston Celtics reserve center Jermaine O'Neal underwent a left knee arthroscopy Friday and the team optimistically set a recovery window of six to eight weeks, according to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
O'Neal, who has missed 32 games this season due to lingering soreness in his knee, was in the middle of a four-week rehab stint aimed at strengthening the muscles around the knee, believing that would allow for a late February return. But swelling persisted and, despite initial hopes that surgery could be avoided, O'Neal elected for the procedure, which could have him back on the court before the end of the regular season, with Ainge noting that early April is the initial goal.
"So, last time we talked, Jermaine was not getting surgery, [but the knee] didn't respond like we had hoped for the first four or five days of that, [he] reconsidered, and had a left knee arthroscopy today -- had his left knee cleaned out," Ainge said.
"He has some arthritis and some loose particles in there and that was the reason [team physician] Dr. [Brian] McKeon wanted to go in there and clean it out. The surgery was performed by Brian McKeon and it was exactly what he thought, and he thought that was the best solution from the beginning. It just took Jermaine a little while to get on board with that. He was hoping that he could make it through the year without getting surgery."
O'Neal took to Twitter on Saturday suggesting that the surgery went well. One tweet on the account read: "I know I haven't been out there much this year, but I promise I will be there when the Cs need me the most! That I guarantee!"
After seeking multiple opinions in recent months, O'Neal decided to avoid surgery and hoped four weeks of strengthening his glutes and quads would allow the knee to hold up for the rest of the season. Ainge revealed that, when the knee swelled even before attempting heightened activity, O'Neal began to reconsider his options.
O'Neal spent two months sidelined at the beginning of the season and, after returning on Christmas Day in Orlando, lasted only 10 games before the knee swelled again, so much so that it forced him to shut down again.
"I think [surgery] was the right decision," coach Doc Rivers said. "I wish we had moved a little earlier on it, but I think J.O. had to make sure he wanted to do it. And he exhausted every avenue, which I thought he should have done because it's a tough decision."
The Celtics played Friday without Shaquille O'Neal, who missed his 12th game of the season, this time with an inflamed Achilles. It's the latest in a hodgepodge of maladies for the 38-year-old center, who previously missed time due to a bruised right knee, sore right calf and sore right hip.
That leaves Boston's frontcourt leaning heavily on Kendrick Perkins, who is still in the infancy of his return from offseason ACL surgery. Perkins hopped back into the starting lineup for the first time Friday night, chipping in 13 points and 12 rebounds over 32 minutes, 31 seconds of playing time.
"We have plenty of big men," Ainge said. "Perk is back playing and playing well, and seems to be handling the minutes; Semih, I don't know how many minutes Semih played [Friday], not a lot -- 7 minutes, he's certainly capable of picking up some extra minutes there; [and] Baby played 20 [minutes on Friday], so we're OK the way we are now."
Perkins took the optimistic approach, hoping that Jermaine O'Neal could contribute down the stretch.
"Missing a guy like Jermaine is hard," Perkins said. "A guy like Jermaine is a great guy, great addition to the team. To know he's coming back in a month or so is great. We could use him in the playoffs. ... Obviously, you don't want him to go through surgery, but it's great to hear he can return at the end of the season."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.