By A.Sherrod Blakely
MILWAUKEE The timetable for Shaquille O'Neal's return to the lineup has fluctuated about as much as the Boston Celtics' roster in recent weeks.
The C's roster is coming together, for sure.
Not so much.
It seems just when one ailment is on the mend, another one flares up.
The right Achilles tendon injury that O'Neal suffered last month is healing fine, but now he's once again bothered by some right foot soreness.
Now it's to the point where the Celtics have no idea when the 7-foot-1 center, who turned 39 years old Sunday, will return to action.
When asked about O'Neal and a likely return date, coach Doc Rivers acknowledged he had no idea.
"O'Neal worked out with us the other day," Rivers said. "Some of the pain returned."
Rivers spoke with Ed Lacerte, the team's head trainer.
"Eddie just said don't expect him anytime soon," Rivers said.
The uncertainty surrounding O'Neal, who missed his 13th consecutive game Sunday, and his return to the floor is not a major issue right now.
Boston remains atop the Eastern Conference standings with 21 games remaining, holding a comfortable three-game lead over the second-place Bulls.
For the Celtics, the concern about O'Neal will be in April and May, which is when they'll need every healthy body available for the playoffs.
Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy have proven themselves as solid NBA players, but the C's will need more than Krstic and Murphy to bring home Banner 18.
Jermaine O'Neal (left knee surgery) is making progress, but there's no telling when he'll be back or how effective he'll be upon returning to the court.
And while there's still time for Shaquille O'Neal to return in time and be productive leading into the playoffs, having missed so many games makes it unlikely that he'll return and pick up immediately where he left off.
O'Neal has started 36 games for the Celtics, and is averaging 9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds while playing 20.7 minutes per game.
While the numbers are career-lows, they fail to show the impact he has had on the C's when healthy.
With O'Neal in the starting lineup, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were enjoying career seasons shooting the ball.
They didn't think so.
"His presence commands so much attention," Allen told CSNNE.com recently. "With a player like that on the floor, it opens things up for so many of us in terms of getting good shot attempts."
Added Pierce: "He definitely makes my job and Ray's job a lot easier out there. We need the big fella, for sure."