EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – All indications are that Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal will not return to action tomorrow night.
O’Neal has been on the injured list all season recovering from right toe surgery. The Lakers had pinpointed yesterday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center as the game O’Neal would play.
But after practicing yesterday at the Lakers’ Health South practice facility, it didn’t sound as if O’Neal would be able to suit up.
“Right now, I don’t think that he’s in a position where he feels comfortable enough to play,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
O’Neal and his doctors said he might be able to play eight weeks after the surgery nine weeks ago on Sept. 11.
Jackson said O’Neal still is feeling pain in the bottom of the right foot.
“I still think he has some questions about dealing with that,” Jackson said.
O’Neal didn’t talk after practice yesterday. But he did work out with his teammates until Jackson pulled him out.
Jackson said he didn’t want to push O’Neal in practice. When O’Neal does return to play, he will play just 30 minutes per game until he gets into shape, Jackson said.
“I think it’s a matter of testing out what he can possibly do,” he said. “It’s just getting comfortable and starting to feel like he can start to move with that freedom that he wants to be able to move with.”
O’Neal’s teammates don’t want to rush him back.
“We have an understanding that it’s up to Shaquille to determine when he’s ready,” said Rick Fox, who played in his first game of the season Friday night after missing the first six serving a suspension for fighting.
“So we have to prepare ourselves like we’ve prepared ourselves for the last seven games, which was go on without him,” said Fox. “If he wants to put on a uniform, it would be a pleasant surprise. But right now, more importantly, we can’t think of him as being here because we’ve heard nothing along the lines as a return.”
When the Lakers lost their first two games of the season, O’Neal asked Jackson if he wanted him to come back earlier. Jackson told him not to rush to return to the game.
The Lakers just finished an 0-3 road trip, losing to Cleveland, Boston and Washington.
“Basically my message to Shaquille has been, don’t come back just because we’re 2-5,” said Jackson. “That’s not reason enough to come back. When you get back, come back when you think you’re going to be healthy. We want you back entirely when you come back. It’s not going to do us any good to have him for two games, or something, and then he’s going to have
to go back and regroup again to get himself ready. So when he’s ready to come back, he’ll tell us then.”