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BOSTON -- Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal, who has missed 23 games this season with soreness in his left knee, will sit out the next four weeks while he rehabs and strengthens the knee in hopes of rejoining the team for a playoff push, according to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
After seeking a second opinion in New York earlier this week, O'Neal, Ainge and members of the Celtics' medical staff met during Wednesday's game against the Detroit Pistons to map out his future. Ainge said surgery had the potential to sideline O'Neal for as little as eight weeks, but O'Neal ultimately elected to avoid going under the knife.
"We had a discussion at halftime -- Jermaine, myself and our medical staff -- and have decided that we are not doing surgery," Ainge said. "The surgery that we were considering, by the way, was just a cleaning out. There's not ligament or cartilage damage that was going to be prepared; it was a cleaning-out process. We decided against that, we'll take the next four weeks to do nothing but work to build up his glutes and quads, with the sole purpose of that. So he'll be rehabbing to build strength in his leg to get ready for the end of the season.
"Jermaine had a lot to do with the decision, and [team physician] Dr. [Brian] McKeon was fine with it. It's not an easy decision, and I think that Jermaine feels like he overdid it. He's got some bruising from the bone-on-bone he has in his knee. He just needs to let that calm down, then build up the strength in it."
O'Neal had missed 19 games in a row before returning on Christmas Day. He played well during a 10-game stretch before the knee became sore and eventually swelled, forcing him out of action again earlier this month.
O'Neal departed the arena before reporters were allowed in the team's locker room following Boston's 86-82 triumph over Detroit.
Ainge expressed optimism that O'Neal could strengthen the knee enough to hold up over the final three months of the regular season and beyond.
"I think Jermaine has a plan to get himself in great shape and build the strength up so he'll be able to withstand the rigors of playing the last couple months of basketball," said Ainge, who also suggested there would be no restrictions once O'Neal worked himself into shape.
"There's no guarantee [swelling won't return], but I think the wear and tear on the knee, he might have overdone it," Ainge said. "He wasn't in as good of shape as he could have been, maybe came back a little too soon. All those things are possibilities. But he got a second opinion from a doctor in New York and our medical staff thinks that he should be back without restriction."
O'Neal, 32, signed a two-year contract in the offseason at the full midlevel exception. Hampered in the latter stages of a 14-year career by knee ailments, O'Neal has said Boston could be the final stop on his NBA journey.
With an uncertain labor situation looming next season, there was the small chance in-season surgery could have ended O'Neal's career. Ainge said that it's "probable" O'Neal will undergo offseason surgery.
Assuming all goes well and O'Neal returns, the Celtics are hoping to limit his minutes as much as possible -- provided fellow centers Shaquille O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins and Semih Erden, who have all battled injuries of their own, can stay healthy -- and allow him to contribute later in the season and the playoffs.Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.