CHICAGO -- The road back has been a long one, much longer and more tortuous than Boston Celtics forward Kevin McHale imagined. And he still isn't there yet.

The goal? A return to full health and the ability to beat opponents with virtual impunity, as he did last season until he broke his foot in mid-March.

"His moves are coming around," Larry Bird noted. "He's getting better. It's taking him a little time, but it's sure good to see him play the way he is now."

After missing the first 14 games while his foot mended from offseason surgery, he has, slowly but irrevocably, started to regain the form and confidence that made him first team all-NBA last season.

"I am feeling better," he said. "My spinning moves are starting to work and I'm getting more confident with the basketball. I had never taken five months off before. That's a long time to go without feeling a basketball in your hands."

After five games back, McHale said that his foot still hurt and he thought that his minutes should be limited to 25 or so a game. He even volunteered to come off the bench.

"We did some tests and it was discovered that there still was weakness in the muscles around the foot," he said. "I didn't know that. So, I had more exercises to do."

He had foot surgery June 22. The shattered navicular bone was repaired, a screw implanted in the bone. An arduous and often boring summer of therapy followed, therapy and more therapy. And no golf or basketball.

"That first month was pure hell," he said. "I had never had a major injury before and I can tell you this, it's a whole different ball game.

"I just thought that I'd be able to have the operation, take off the cast, and be ready to go out and play. Just like that. Well I can tell you this, it doesn't work that way. I really admire guys who've gone through this and more because now I know what it takes."

The therapy continues. There are visits to one doctor, a consultation with another. Shuttle therapy. He fits in time for practice and games, but not, he says, as much time as he'd like for his three children.

"That is the toughest part," he said. "I feel real guilty being away from them so much. I'm here for a half hour, there for an hour and a half and it gets to be a long, long day."

His hope is to continue the slow but steady progress until he hits robust health when the playoffs start. It would be a complete reversal from last season.

The screw is to be removed when the season ends. "Just what I'm looking forward to, another summer of recovering from surgery," he said. "But this one won't be bad and it'll only be six to eight weeks in a soft cast. After what I just went through, that's nothing."