Rick Fox hiked up his shorts and flexed his quadriceps Saturday night. His left thigh muscle had atrophied, despite months of rehabilitation and weeks in which he covered 50 miles on the treadmill.
So, seven months after surgery, he had something else to do, something else to fix before he could play again.
The Lakers figure Fox is at least two weeks from coming off the injured list, a time frame that parallels Kobe Bryant (shoulder) and Karl Malone (knee). Shaquille O'Neal said Saturday that his calf still hurts to the touch and when he raises up on his toes, and had no predictions for when he might return to the court. "Hopefully," he said he would play on the upcoming trip that begins Wednesday in Memphis, but he shrugged.
Team physician Steve Lombardo examined all three before the Lakers played the Clippers, and there were no dramatic discoveries. They'll continue to take treatment on their ailing parts, while the Lakers grind through one of the most difficult stretches of their season.
According to a Laker release, O'Neal will be out at least another week, Malone at least two more weeks and Bryant one or two more weeks.
Coach Phil Jackson would like to have the heady Fox on the floor, considering the many youngsters he has used in place of his injured superstars. At a time when the Lakers hoped Devean George would become more assertive, or at least maintain the contributions of his first six weeks, he has instead become more inconsistent.
On Dec. 21, George was averaging 10.8 points a game and shooting 51.6% from the floor. Malone was injured that night. In the 11 games since, George has averaged 8 points and shot 36.5% from the floor. And, in the seven games since O'Neal was injured, George has averaged 5.7 points and shot 30.8 %.
"He's been the little brother, the young kid on this team as they've gone through some championship years, and now he's in a position of responsibility," Jackson said. "He's got to step into that."
In the meantime, the Lakers wait on Fox and hope his May 12 surgery has not taken too much from his 34-year-old body. The recovery has been slow and difficult, even for the highly motivated Fox.
One of the most approachable Lakers, Fox makes it a point to stay a step ahead of questions about his condition. At one time, he had hoped to be on the floor by Christmas, and then within a couple weeks of that. The Lakers needed help when Bryant was injured Monday night and rather than activate Fox, who volunteered vigorously, they signed Ime Udoka to a 10-day contract.
Now, Fox is part of the parade of Laker injured, with only vague ideas of when he'll be productive again. And no one is safe. O'Neal sat in a golf cart in a hallway at Staples Center, talking on a cellphone Saturday night, when a club employee walked by rolling a rack of balls. He didn't judge the turn well, and the rack slammed into O'Neal's right knee, much to his horror.
"Oh, Shaq," he said. "Oh, man. I'm so sorry, Shaq."
O'Neal laughed. Just the way things are going for him. For all of them. Forty-five minutes before the game, Malone walked out of the trainer's room. O'Neal walked five feet behind. Bryant followed five feet behind O'Neal.
"It's a little better," O'Neal said. "We'll see."
As of Saturday night, the Lakers had not heard from Horace Grant. He is in Georgia with his ailing father.