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Danny Ainge is still counting on Jermaine O’Neal

01.20.11 at 12:19 am ET
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Danny Ainge made this much clear after meeting with Jermaine O’Neal at halftime Wednesday night – he’s not giving up on the center to make an important contribution this season.

Ainge said the 32-year-old O’Neal and the team met and decided not to have the chronic left knee scoped to be “cleaned out.”

Instead, O’Neal will put off having knee surgery and will undergo four weeks of rehab to strengthen the area around the knee.

“We haven’t really known what we are going to do,” Ainge said. “We had a discussion at halftime, Jermaine, and myself, and our medical staff, and have decided that we are not doing surgery. The surgery that we were considering by the way, was just a cleaning out.

Surgery could have kept him out for two months but Ainge said surgery or not, O’Neal would’ve been back this season or in time for the playoffs.

“That’s always a guess, but probably closer to eight weeks. And you know again, Jermaine had a lot to do with the decision. And Dr. [Brian] McKeon was fine with it, and it’s not an easy decision, and I think that Jermaine feels like he overdid it a little bit. He’s got some bruising from the bone on bone that he has in his knee. He just needs to let that calm down, and build up the strength in it.”

The reason the Celtics and O’Neal are hopeful for a return is the fact that he isn’t dealing with serious ligament or cartilage tears.

“There’s not ligament or cartilage damage that was going to be prepared, it was a cleaning out process,” Ainge said. “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.”

The ailing left knee has limited O’Neal to 17 games and 18 minutes per contest this season, during which he is averaging just over five points and 3.8 rebounds.

“This is a good option,” Ainge added. “I mean, we felt – either way we thought he might be back for the playoffs. If he had it cleaned out or if he didn’t. You know, again, it’s just he’s got a lot of wear-and-tear on the knee. But this is a good option. I think he feels like if he gets himself in better shape and the strength then he’ll be ready to give us an effort that we haven’t seen this year out of him.

“I would say the purpose is to get him ready to play in late-season and postseason play, with no restrictions. I mean his first night there might be, but the purpose is to get him back 100 percent.”

The Celtics signed O’Neal last July to a two-year, $12 million deal, with O’Neal being paid the full midlevel exception of about $5.76 million this season.

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