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LAKER REPORT

Off-Season Toe Surgery Is Likely

March 13, 2002|Tim Brown

After limping through most of the season, Shaquille O'Neal said Tuesday he probably would have off-season surgery to ease the pain in his arthritic big toe, a procedure he was told would require a three-month recovery period.

"I want the pain to go away forever," he said.

O'Neal is expected to be examined by Dr. Robert Mohr, who more than a month ago took over the treatment of O'Neal's ailment, no later than Saturday. Mohr, chief of podiatric surgery at UCLA Medical Center, has called surgery a last resort and only recently prescribed changes in O'Neal's shoes and orthotics.

O'Neal said he would wait at least 30 days after the season, a period he said he would spend resting and considering other opinions. The possibility of surgery, he said, is "over 80%."

If the procedure were necessary, the club probably would encourage him to have it immediately after the season, to allow him more recovery time before next season.

Even then, General Manager Mitch Kupchak said it was "premature" to assume surgery.

"Hopefully, he can continue to play at the level he's playing at right now and address it in the off-season," Kupchak said.

It would be the second procedure in two off-seasons for O'Neal, who had surgery to correct a deformity in his small left toe on Aug. 29, and as a result experienced pain in the area for much of the early season.

He has been on the injured list twice since Christmas because of the arthritis, which he estimates costs him six to eight points a game and saps his mobility.

"I'm still a step slow," he said. "I have baby kangaroo springs rather than adult kangaroo springs."

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The Lakers are less adamant about resting O'Neal's toe before the playoffs. Coach Phil Jackson also said that when the time for the decision comes, he is as likely to gauge the teams behind the Lakers in the West as those ahead of them.

The Lakers have lost one more game than Pacific Division and conference-leading Sacramento and have two games left against the Kings.

Though Vlade Divac, who rivals Patrick Ewing in the field of cheap predictions, said the Lakers would require home-court advantage to get past the Kings, Jackson implied that Games 1 and 2 in Sacramento do not frighten him. The Lakers won twice in Sacramento in last season's playoffs, but those were Games 3 and 4, by which time the Kings--and Chris Webber in particular--appeared to have lost their zeal for the series.

"One to five is not a very big slide in this conference," he said. "You want home-court for a couple rounds [at least]."

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Meantime, Jackson would love to see O'Neal shed some girth and regain mobility in the next 21 games, and keeping him on the court might be the best way--or the only way--to do that. O'Neal's arthritic big toe limits his practice time.

"I think his conditioning is better. I think his tone is better," Jackson said. "Obviously, we've got to get him to lose some weight. That goes without saying, simply because of the stress on his toe."

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Magic Johnson, vice president and part-owner of the Lakers, told the New York Post that he would consider selling his interest in the club in order to take a management position with the New York Knicks.

"What I don't see in the Knicks' organization is a basketball guy," Johnson told the Post.

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