The FIBA World Championship is well under way in Istanbul, Turkey, with the finest basketball talents from around the globe converging in one gym to show the world what they've got. Only one of them represents the Boston Celtics.
It's not Rajon Rondo, who spent several weeks in camp with Team USA before pulling out at the last minute as coach Mike Krzyzewski finalized his roster.
It's not Kendrick Perkins, who was one of 27 players named to the initial slate for USA Basketball back in February before a knee injury derailed him.
And it's certainly not Paul Pierce, who was part of the "Nightmare Team" the Americans fielded at Worlds in 2002, failing to win a medal and finishing an unfathomable sixth.
No, it's Semih Erden, a 24-year-old NBA rookie that many here in the States have never heard of. Erden is a crucial sixth man for the home Turkish squad, coming off the bench and playing big minutes at center for the undefeated hosts. He's emerged as the team's second leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, also chipping in 5.8 rebounds and 61.3 percent shooting. No one knew who Erden was at the beginning of this summer, but if he keeps showcasing his game on the global stage, they'll soon start to find out.
And if the Turks keep winning, it might raise questions about just how seriously we should take their blue-chip players as legitimate NBA prospects. This Worlds squad is led primarily by four guys — Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova are already legit NBA starters, while Erden and Omer Asik, whom the Bulls signed this summer, are still works in progress.
If this past week hasn't just been a flash in the pan, and Erden is actually this good, the Celtics may have to take him seriously in camp this fall.
The C's selected Erden back in 2008 with the 60th and last pick in that summer's NBA draft. He was the new Mr. Irrelevant, joining such basketball immortals as Will Blalock and Milovan Rakovic. No one around the league expected at the time that Erden could become an impact player.
But at this point, he appears to have an outside chance at breaking into the league. After two more seasons in the Euroleague since the summer of '08, he's now prepared to make the jump across the pond. He signed a new contract with the Celtics this summer, a fully guaranteed two-year deal worth nearly $1.3 million. He's ready to make a commitment to the Celtics, and the C's are happy to have him.
Just how big a role he plays, though, depends on whether he can prove himself — both at Worlds and later this month at training camp back in Waltham, Mass. He's obviously part of a massive logjam of Celtics big men this season, as Jermaine O'Neal will compete with Shaquille O'Neal for the starting center position while Perkins waits in the wings to join them when healthy. Among those three, and a power forward trifecta of Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis and rookie Luke Harangody, there are hardly enough minutes to go around.
The most likely scenario is that Danny Ainge will send Erden up to the Maine Red Claws in the Developmental League. There, Ainge's son Austin can monitor the young center's progress. Then, when a job opens up for Erden on the big club, he'll be on speed dial.
If this summer is any indication, Erden will indeed be ready when his number's called.
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