Jermaine O'Neal is now a member of what should be an exciting Toronto Raptors squad, playing in the front court alongside rising star Chris Bosh. Before coming to Toronto though, O'Neal was an All-Star with the Indiana Pacers, and was selected to the All NBA Team three years in a row. He's also recently struggled with a knee injury, so when the team was in town last weekend for a game against the Lakers, O'Neal took the time to share some advice with Andrew Bynum, who is similarly returning from a knee injury this season.
"I just told him (Sunday), `Take your time.' He was telling me he still has a little bit of things going on. But (I told him), `Just take your time.' Longevity is on his side. They have enough talent, enough big guys to really step in and pick up the slack.
"So, it's important for him to stay focused because he has a huge future in this league. He's so young. I know he wants to get back out there. He just has to be patient."
O'neal knows first hand what can happen if you try to come back too soon from a severe knee injury. Last year, he wanted so badly to be ready for the start of the season, that after his surgery in May, he was rehabbing and training for the upcoming season at the same time. It's something he takes full responsibility for, but he knows all that work never allowed the knee to get back to full strength. The swelling continued throughout the season, and O'Neal was limited to just 42 games in 2007-08.
The interesting part of this to me is that O'Neal said Bynum "still has a little bit of things going on" with the knee. This is of particular interest because, both Andrew's agent and Andrew himself have said that the knee is 100%, and that he's fully recovered and ready to put it through a full season of work. It remains to be seen whether Bynum can play at the level most feel he's capable of for an entire NBA campaign. But for his future (as well as the team's), let's hope he's not rushing back just to increase the likelihood of the Lakers giving him that big contract extension he's after. As Jermaine O'Neal told him over the weekend, there's no rush: longevity is on his side.