By Rich Levine
WALTHAM Shaquille O'Neal missed his second straight practice on Monday afternoon, opting instead to work on his stamina and rehab his injured knee in Health Point's swimming pool.
"I swam, worked out," O'Neal said. "The knee feels better. It's still a little sore. When it gets to the point when I can push off, I'll be ready."
The big man says he still plans to travel with the Celtics to Detroit for Tuesday night's game with the Pistons, but his coach insists that it's very likely that O'Neal will miss his first game on the young season.
"I doubt if he plays tomorrow," Doc Rivers said. "But, we'll see."
Fortunately for the C's, Jermaine O'Neal who missed Friday's game because of a sore knee of his own practiced fully on Monday, running with the first team, and looks poised to fill the starting center spot. But the most interesting consequence of Shaq's injury may be the opportunity it provides rookie Semih Erden.
The 7-foot-1 Turk has yet to see his first NBA action, in large part because Rivers doesn't think he's quite ready, but with Shaq on the mend, Rivers may not have any choice but to roll with the team's new import.
"It depends on what Shaq does, obviously," said Rivers, "but, yeah, there's a good chance Erden plays. He looks OK. He's still got ways to go, but he's trying his best, and that's all you can ask for as a coach."
Doc's biggest Erden concern thus far is that the kid has become, as they say, a jack of all trades and a master of none. He's learning, growing and picking up a lot of different things in first season, but has yet to take any one aspect of the game and run with it.
"You'd almost prefer he picks up a lot of one thing and then you can keep him in that way," Rivers said, "but he's getting bits and pieces of everything we're doing and doesn't have anything he does well. It's just gonna take time. The problem is that we're gonna have to use him in the time when he should be getting better.
"Defensively, he's OK at doing our stuff. Offensively, he's a great picker, a great roller. He needs to learn how to finish better. He's really struggling at the basket. But he'll get that."
It also hasn't helped matters that Erden is battling a string of nagging injuries
He has a bad hand, a bad shoulder and playing against us every day in practice.
But despite the coach's concerns, Erden has the respect and confidence of two of his Hall of Fame teammates, Kevin Garnett and Shaq, who needed very little prodding when it came to dishing out praise for the rookie.
"He plays against Shaq every day so he has no choice but to get better," Garnett said. "Semih's very skillful and has a very high IQ when it comes to basketball; just him learning our plays and our system. We love him here. Even though he's a foreigner, you can't tell. The way he dances and then way he act, he fits right in.
"I think everybody, all the new guys, are starting to get some of the plays in our system down. We go over them every day repetition is repetition. But other than that, Erden can score the ball. He's a presence on the block. He's not afraid. He's not gonna back down from anyone."
"Erden's a great player. He's a great kid," Shaq said. "I'm glad I'm getting to know him; show him some things.
"He gave me a great move in that open scrimmage the other day. A real nice move. A pump fake move. He's young. He's gonna get his shot."
That shot, more than likely, comes Tuesday night in Detroit.