Olowokandi Out 4-6 Weeks

Times Staff Writer

Center Michael Olowokandi had damaged cartilage removed from his left knee Monday and will be lost to the Clippers for at least one month and perhaps up to six weeks, his agent said. Arthur Ting, orthopedic surgeon for hockey's San Jose Sharks, performed the arthroscopic procedure at Fremont, Calif.

Olowokandi had missed most of training camp because of what was originally termed tendinitis, thought to have been brought on by a rigorous off-season workout routine. Olowokandi also spent five games on the injured list at the start of December because of the same injury.

When it flared up again last week, he was put on the injured list Friday, and the team's medical staff decided to take a closer look Monday.

"It went great," said Bill Duffy, Olowokandi's agent. "There was some slight damage and they cleaned it out. It had been hurting Michael all season, but he didn't want to say anything. Hopefully, we have solved it now."

Olowokandi is the third Clipper to have damaged cartilage removed this season, joining power forward Elton Brand and swingman Corey Maggette. Brand and Maggette were each sidelined for more than a month.

In the worst-case scenario, Olowokandi would be sidelined until late March, leaving him only four weeks until the end of what many assume will be his fifth and final season as a Clipper. He has suggested several times this season that he will seek a lucrative offer from another team when he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. He also has not ruled out re-signing with the Clippers, who made him the top overall pick in the 1998 draft.

Frustrated Clipper fans have targeted Olowokandi during the team's slide from playoff contention, booing him at Staples Center. In response, Olowokandi said in effect last month that the fans can go ahead and boo him because he'll be playing elsewhere next season.

In addition, during the last few weeks, there has been a quiet debate among some players, coaches and other team personnel about whether the Clippers are a better team without Olowokandi, averaging career-bests of 12.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots through 36 games. At one point, while Olowokandi was spending his first stint of the season on the injured list, the Clippers won three consecutive games.

One Clipper strongly disagreed, however.

"Oh no," said Brand, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, "that's my boy. We need Michael."

Veteran Sean Rooks has replaced Olowokandi in the starting lineup for the last two games, both losses, and will probably be backed up by rookie Melvin Ely.



at New York, 4:30 PST

Site -- Madison Square Garden.

Radio -- XTRA (1150).

Records -- Clippers 17-30, Knicks 20-26.

Record vs. Knicks (2001-02) -- 2-0.

Update -- The Knicks aren't good, but they are in better shape than the Clippers right now. New York had its first winning month of this season, going 10-8 in January. Shooting guard Allan Houston leads the Knicks by averaging 21.5 points.

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