O’Neal Headed for Injured List

By Conrad Brunner | Oct. 29, 2004
With the pain in his injured left foot still lingering, Jermaine O'Neal said Friday he is likely to be on the injured list when the Pacers open the regular season next Wednesday night in Cleveland.

"I expect to open on the injured list," O'Neal said. "After a couple more days of practice we'll see where I'm at. I know for sure I won't play next week at all and there's a huge possibility I will be out for a couple of weeks. So we'll see what happens."

O'Neal has been out since Oct. 20, missing the final five preseason games – including tonight's finale against Denver in Conseco Fieldhouse. He began his own workouts Thursday and will continue through the weekend to see how the foot responds. If the pain continues, he said he will seek a second opinion.

"I knew the entire preseason this may be an issue," he said. "I was hoping if I sat out a week-and-a-half or two weeks it would calm down and heal, but after the first week, it wasn't the type progress we thought it would be making. That's when I focused my mind on coming into the season on the injured list.

"That's something I didn't want to do. I know my team doesn't want me there. But ultimately we know it's better to take care of the injuries now than come the Eastern Conference Finals and I've got something wrong with my foot and can't play in a game."

O'Neal originally injured the foot in an offseason workout. Compensating for that problem, believed to be minor, caused him to begin landing awkwardly on the foot and led to the current injury, which he said involves ligament and nerve damage.

"We've been very careful about it here and we continue to be," said franchise President Donnie Walsh. "It's got to be his call when he feels well enough to play. I think the doctors know what it is and they're working with it and in the long run it'll be all right but we can't tell when the pain is there and when it's not.

"If he's injured and doesn't feel like he can play, he'll go on the injured list and come back when he says he can."

If O'Neal does go on the list, he'll join starting center Jeff Foster (hip surgery) and backup point guard Anthony Johnson (broken finger, right hand), who both are expected to miss up to eight weeks.

That would likely push Austin Croshere into a temporary starting role at power forward for at least the first five games of the regular season. Croshere has started five preseason games, averaging 7.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, heading into the finale tonight against Denver in Conseco Fieldhouse. Scot Pollard has been filling in for Foster at center. Eddie Gill has stepped into Johnson's backup role.

"Obviously, with Jermaine being out, I want to do as much as I can to make up for it," Croshere said. "He's a very good defender and I'm never going to be a huge shot-blocker like he is, but I can pick it up on the defensive end as much as possible. And he's our leading rebounder so obviously that's going to be huge, as well. Offensively, I'm going to have to keep doing the things I've been doing throughout my career."

The injuries will have a domino effect on the roster and rotations, particularly with key reserves Jonathan Bender (knee) and David Harrison (shoulder) both nursing minor maladies.

"Injuries are part of the landscape of this business," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "That's why you’ve got a deep team, to have guys ready to fill in. Do we have another Jermaine O'Neal? No. But we're going to find a way to make it work.

"The most important thing is he has the opportunity to get completely healthy, because this is a 26-year-old and this is a 100-game season to get to the playoffs counting the exhibitions, so we have to make sure we keep our eye on the ball here."

This isn't what the Pacers had in mind for launching a season with championship aspirations and high expectations. But, as Stephen Jackson pointed out, at least it's better to have injuries at the beginning of a season than the end.

"It's definitely a blow to us because we want to have our franchise player starting off but we'd rather have him healthy at the end," Jackson said. "It's not how you start it's how you finish. We've just got to hold it down until he gets back."