Webber's take on the surgery and return to playing form. We might C the old Webb Webber hints he might finally be all way back from '03 surgery [size=-1]By PHIL JASNER[/size] [size=-1]firstname.lastname@example.org[/size] Chris Webber hears the reports that Phoenix Suns star Amare Stoudemire will be back from microfracture knee surgery in 4 months, and hopes, for Stoudemire's sake, that the reports are accurate rather than merely flush with optimism. Forgive Webber, though, for his gnawing sense of skepticism. The 76ers forward underwent a similar procedure, coupled with a repair of a torn meniscus in the same knee, more than 2 years ago. Even though he came back to play for the Sacramento Kings in 8 months, he admitted yesterday that only recently has he begun to really feel like himself again. He has missed the first three preseason games, and is expected to remain out tomorrow night in New York because of a thigh bruise, not because of any residual problems with the knee. Webber's first inclination, when asked about Stoudemire, was to say, "He's not going to be back in 4 months." But he knows Stoudemire will try. And he sincerely hopes that's the timeline. "I talked to my doctor about it, and [he said] maybe it's the degree of [the injury]," Webber said after practice yesterday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "The one thing I am saddened about is, he's having it at such a young age. When I had it, I knew I had 5 years left [to play]. If I had had 10 years left, I would probably have had to have that surgery again. "I feel bad for him, because I know what he's going to go through. Ask Penny Hardaway; ask Jamal Mashburn. I hope it's not a serious microfracture." Webber was 30 when he went down during the 2002-03 playoffs. Stoudemire will turn 23 next month. By all accounts, the size of the lesion on Stoudemire's left knee is nominal, the location is one that is less weight-bearing than Webber's, and the rest of the knee is normal. The surgery, done via an arthroscope, generates a type of cartilage to serve as a cushion for the knee, preventing a bone-on-bone situation. The cushioning material can begin to deteriorate in 3 to 5 years. The injury ended the career of Mashburn, the forward who is on the Sixers' roster but will retire. There is a long list of pro athletes who have undergone the procedure, with mixed results. Former Suns and Kings star Kevin John-son came back and performed at a high level; Terrell Brandon did not. New Jersey's Jason Kidd is back at an All-Star level; New York's Allan Houston is struggling. Others have included Toronto's Alvin Williams, Portland's Zach Randolph and Utah's Matt Harpring, plus NFL stars such as Bruce Smith and Stephen Davis. "It's not over, man," Stoudemire told Phoenix reporters. "I still feel we can win this thing. I'm going to bounce back stronger than ever." At the same time, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters Stoudemire was going "to be great when he comes back and wow the fans for 10 more years." Webber recalled being told he could need 2 years to come all the way back, but "I also heard 6 months, and that's all I attracted myself to." "I tried to come back at 8 months, I had a pretty good game, but the pain I had never left," he said. "It hurts you to do certain things, and you develop bad habits and your mind feels that pain all the time. If I were just now coming back, I would come back with the mentality that I never left, [because] when you have that pain you have to find new ways to play. It's going to make him change his game, become a better outside player. You can't pound as much." Webber remembers feeling an urgency to return because he was injured the year after the Kings had lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, "so all I was thinking about was a championship the next year." "I talked to Bruce Smith, and he told me I was crazy for coming back [so fast], that he had had it and it was a 2-year injury." Webber said he was on crutches for 3 months. "My leg atrophied, and I had to learn to walk again," he said. How about now? He said he and teammate Allen Iverson "can't wait to get out there and show the one-two punch. We can't wait to do that." "I feel good," he said. "The more and more I talk about it, what if I have a bad day? It's going to be that much more dramatic. I'm not even saying for you guys, but just in my mind, to keep a level head. In my head, I know it's good, so shut up and play." So, is Webber finally back? "This year," Webber said, breaking into a wide smile, "is going to tell me if I am or if I'm not."