By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON When it comes to the Boston Celtics big men, change hasn't been a good thing all season.
So when the news spread that Jermaine O'Neal's status with the team was changing, well, fearing the worst was understandable.
Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told reporters after Friday night's 101-97 loss to Dallas, said that O'Neal underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and would be out for 6-8 weeks.
"The first part of April is our hope (for O'Neal to return)," Ainge said.
After a battery of tests from local and national medical experts, the C's decided earlier that they would try and rest the knee and bring him back to the fold in about a month.
Ainge said the knee was not responding the way they wanted it to, which is when O'Neal reconsidered having surgery during the season.
The surgery that O'Neal will be having is the same surgery the C's had given some consideration to him having earlier this season.
"Jermaine had seen other doctors," Ainge said. "And it's not a - Jermaine couldn't be given 100 assurance that it was going to fix everything, so he was just trying to fix it just by resting and building up the glutes and quads that we talked about last time."
But it was becoming painfully clear to both the C's and O'Neal that the injury was not getting any better.
Because he has had knee issues in past, the Celtics had MRIs taken before signing him.
"They've worsened from the time of what we saw in the summer," said Ainge, referring to the MRIs taken then and now.
The concern was that the knee would have some swelling with rigorous physical activity.
But there was inflammation even without him working out.
"Even without activity, the swelling was there and that's when he decided to change the course of the game plan," Ainge said.
Rivers said he didn't find out until Thursday that O'Neal was going to have surgery soon.
"I thought it was the right decision," Rivers said. "I wish he had moved a little earlier on it, but I think JO had to make sure he wanted to do it. And he exhausted every avenue, which I thought he should've done because it's a tough decision."
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins can relate to what Jermaine O'Neal is contending with now.
A six-time all-star, O'Neal came to Boston knowing his role would be reduced just because of the shear number of superstar talent the C's have.
While disappointed that he won't be with them for the bulk of the regular season, O'Neal's teammates are encouraged by the idea that he'll return just in time for the playoffs.
"A guy like Jermaine is a great guy, great addition to the team," said Kendrick Perkins, who made his first start of the season against the Mavericks and finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds. "To know he's coming back in a month or so is great. "We could use him in the playoffs, everybody and every game."
If O'Neal is back in time for the playoffs, he will be hard-pressed to break through and get meaningful minutes.
While O'Neal is out, Kendrick Perkins will re-establish himself as the team's starting center. Shaquille O'Neal will continue to use his muscle to overpower people. And don't forget about rookie Semih Erden who has done a really solid job when called upon at the last minute.
Getting past those players will be difficult for O'Neal, if downright next to impossible.
Still, having another big man available for this final stretch run can only help the C's.
"You don't want him to go through surgery," Perkins said. "But it's great to hear he can return at the end of the season."