Celtics  big man Jermaine O’Neal  checked in with the Dale & Holley show Thursday as part of the show’s Celtic of the Week interview series. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page .
O’Neal has been struggling with his surgically repaired left knee the entire season, and he’s been limited to 17 games. “For the most part, it’s been a frustrating first part of the year,” he acknowledged. “I do understand where I’m at. I understand what we’re dealing with. We actually had a little evaluation this morning about something that may or may not be done to kind of just put a couple of scenarios behind me.”
O’Neal said another meeting was scheduled for Thursday afternoon with doctors and Danny Ainge, so they can make a decision on the treatment plan. O’Neal indicated surgery definitely is in his future, but he’s hoping it can wait until after the season.
“[Surgery] was definitely something that we talked about the first time I was out for an extended period of time,” he said. “We wanted to try a couple of options. And we may be looking at that situation now. It’s something that I will eventually need at some point, at the end of the season or in the season, but you want to be around. You don’t want to miss an extended period of time. I already did that. So, you make your decisions as a player. You listen to the staff, and if they have a certain way, then you try that. And if that doesn’t work, you’ve got to go with the next best scenario.”
Despite the injury troubles, O’Neal gushed about how much he’s enjoyed playing in Boston. “This is a very enjoyable time for me,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re not doing some of the things you’re used to, sometimes you look at it as a negative. But I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had so many enjoyable teammates. so many enjoyable personnel as far as the coaching staff, and just so many enjoyable people throughout the city that really makes it easy to be here, and no matter what you’re going through, it makes it fun.
“It’s funny, because me and Kevin [Garnett] were just talking over the last couple of weeks, and we were talking last night actually about the ability to pick a teammate up when he’s sort of down and make him feel like nothing else matters. You know, We love you and we want you here. That’s how we approach it every day.”
Some have criticized O’Neal for a lack of production this season (5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game). O’Neal said people need to understand that the Celtics’ game plan does not always require big production from its center.
“I know a lot of fans out there, and even you guys, I think, want to analyze what players do by numbers,” he said. “Sometimes, you can’t really analyze that. Because you don’t really know what the issue is or the situation is as far as what the team is trying to do.”
O’Neal said he’s remained positive and looks forward to being more of a contributor. “‘¨’¨For me, I’m having a great time,” he said. “I’m having a great time with the guys obviously basketball-wise. And I’d like to get out there a lot more, and I’d like to get over this ailment that I have. But it’s been a great situation for me. And I look forward to finishing out the year, and I look forward to winning a championship with this team.”
O’Neal had high praise for the coaching staff for keeping the players confident every night no matter who is on the floor. “We expect to win every night,” he said. “To be tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference and have one of the best records in the league and we haven’t had a full complement of players all year, it really makes us feel a certain way. We feel like once we do get everybody back, it’s going to be extremely, extremely tough to really beat our team.”
Whether on the court or at the grocery store or at a gas station, O’Neal said he’s received a tremendous amount of support from fans, and that has helped keep his spirits up.
“I genuinely, really, really believe this, that this is the best sports town that I’ve ever played in,” he said. “The people here are off the charts when it comes to making a player feel at home, making a player feel a part of the community, a part of the family. It’s been unbelievable for me. And I just wanted to thank everybody for showing so much love and appreciate towards me.”