O'Neal: 'Ive worked extremely hard to put myself in position to come back'
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OAKLAND – Backup center Jermaine O'Neal on Wednesday participated in his first full practice since undergoing surgery on his right wrist last month and anticipates returning to the court soon.
How soon is yet to be determined, but O'Neal almost certainly will be back in uniform before the Feb. 13-16 All-Star break and maybe as soon as a week.
In either case, it would be a speedy recovery. Upon completion of the surgery on Dec. 13, it was expected O'Neal might not be back until sometime in March.
"It could be a week, two weeks, three weeks (or) as soon as I feel strong enough," he said Wednesday. "(Therapists and trainers) gauge my strength every week, and it's improved every week, so it could be next week. I don't know.''
O'Neal, 35, signed a one-year contract with the belief his 18th season may be his last. He started slowly but found a rhythm after about three weeks. The six-time All-Star not only began to make an impact on the court but also emerged as an inspirational locker room sage.
"It was great to see him on his first day going live and trying to establish a rhythm, getting closer to being on the floor in uniform," coach Mark Jackson said. "It's a great sign for us."
Starting center Andrew Bogut has logged only a few more minutes per game in the absence of the 6-foot-11 O'Neal, but Jackson has occasionally been forced to use 6-9 power forward Marreese Speights at center. His wrist still taped after practice, O'Neal maintained his conditioning work throughout but this week added weightlifting to the regimen. He says there is no target date and, with a laugh, that it might be a while before he's ready to take charges on defense.
"It's the first day," O'Neal said. "I feel very positive about it. I'm looking forward to practice tomorrow."