For the first time since suffering a left calf strain late in the game against Washington on March 20, Jermaine O’Neal practiced.
“I’m not sure if I’m ready though (to play),” he said. “Still didn’t really have a good pop to it. Still ran with a little bit of a limp.”
Suns coach Lindsey Hunter noticed O’Neal “dragging just a little bit” but was otherwise encouraged with what he saw from his backup center.
“I hope so,” Hunter answered when asked if he would have O’Neal available when the Suns visit Utah Wednesday. “The morning will be the test.”
O’Neal, who has missed the last two games, plans to wait as well before pronouncing himself fit to return.
“It’s really just my comfort level,” he said. “My comfort level and just being able to be, not only be effective but you don’t want to feel hurt. You don’t want to look hurt out there.”
O’Neal said his calf had been bothering him two, three days before he got hurt.
“It never got better,” he said. “Obviously, it gradually got worse.”
O’Neal wants to play. He wants to be on the floor with his teammates, who at the moment are undersized and playing short-handed with both him and Marcin Gortat on the sideline.
The decision for O’Neal, though, is an easy one.
Yes, if the Suns were fighting for a playoff spot, he would be out there. The Suns, 23-48, are not so O’Neal will be smart.
“The last thing you want to do is injure yourself at the end of the year and rehab it in the offseason. I did that the last three summers,” he said referring to past wrist and knee injuries.
“I’m very sensitive towards trying to stay healthy.”
When healthy, O’Neal has shown he can still perform at a high level, averaging 11.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.77 blocks over his last 13 games.
The question for the 34-year-old going forward is whether or not he wants to extend his playing career past a 17th season.
“I think I’ve put myself in a great position to make an appropriate decision to really get a full summer of workouts and then making a quicker decision on if I want to play or not, rather than making a decision late in August,” he said. “That’s what I had to do last year and the previous two seasons because of surgery.”
O’Neal said he addressed his position with the team.
“They understand where I’m coming from,” he said. “Everybody said the same thing, ‘Just take your time. If you can play, great; if you can’t, then don’t.’ That’s what I’m going to do.”