Source: Shaq return by April 1 targeted

BOSTON -- Shaquille O'Neal is due to be sworn in Thursday as a member of the Worcester County Reserve Deputy Sheriff's Association. Who knew?

That item brought about the following reactions:

From Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "He's doing something. That's good. For the community part of it, [signing Shaq] has been a huge success. His next step is to be able to do that for us on the floor."

From Mike Rotondi, a 31-year season ticket holder with floor seats: "I wish he would stop doing all that stuff off the floor and do it on the floor. That's what we got him for. It makes me crazy. He hasn't played in two months and he missed a bunch of games before that."

Gentlemen, we have some good news for you, especially since O'Neal has not played since Feb. 1, a 16-minute stint at Sacramento. Wednesday night's 90-87 loss to Memphis was the 22nd game in a row he has missed with his current medical situation, a right Achilles problem. He also missed 12 additional games combined with a bruised right knee (5), a sore right calf (4) and a sore right hip (3.)

A team source on Wednesday said that O'Neal is mending and on schedule for a return by April 1. That would give him two weeks to get reacquainted with the teammates he left -- and acquainted with the five new teammates with whom he has yet to play.

When he coached Orlando, Rivers used to joke that he had two playbooks for every game: one with Grant Hill and one without Hill. He didn't know which one he'd need for any given game. He said that isn't the case this time around because he knows Shaq isn't playing.

"That playbook is under the carpet or in the desk,'' Rivers said. "We haven't taken it out. He [Shaq] is coming back soon enough. I don't know what the date is, if it's in the next four or five days or anything like that. Obviously, the clock's ticking.

"Listen, there's nothing we can do about this. We would love to have [Shaq] now and we'd love to have [Jermaine O'Neal] now. With the team, it puts you in a bit of a bind."

The Celtics have been understandably cautious in bringing back O'Neal, who, because of his age (39) and his girth (substantial), is not the best candidate for the type of injury he has. Achilles injuries can be notoriously slow to heal for even the most well-conditioned athletes.

Some doctors have taken to calling what O'Neal has as Achilles tendinosis rather than tendinitis because the ailment is due to overuse, not inflammation. With tendinosis, there can be a very, very slow growth of new cells in the area due to a lack of blood flow. Doctors sometimes refer to this as the "watershed area." Also, Achilles tendinosis does not respond well to anti-inflammatories, which are used to treat Achilles tendinitis.

But whether it's tendinitis or tendinosis, it behooves the Celtics and O'Neal to be as patient as possible, for one setback could end his season.

Still, with the Celtics being pushed to the hilt by the Bulls, and with Miami only two games astern in the loss column after Wednesday's games, there is a genuine cause of concern and understandable frustration on the part of fans like Rotondi. There are only 12 games remaining in the regular season.

Under the scenario outlined by the team source, O'Neal would be back probably by the April 3 game against Detroit. (The April 1 game at Atlanta would be right at the nine-day mark, but it's at the end of a road trip.) He would thus be back in time for the games against Chicago (April 7) and Miami (April 10), both of which are on the road.

That would be huge for Rivers, who, being a coach, won't allow himself to think such happy thoughts. But the return of Shaq would solidify both the starting five and the bench.

O'Neal would be back in the starting unit; he started all 36 games he has played. Nenad Krstic would take over the backup center spot along with possibly Jermaine O'Neal, who also is due back sometime before the end of the season. Unlike Shaq, J.O. never really made much of an impact this season; Krstic has already played more minutes as a Celtic.

This has been a season of what-ifs for the Celtics in terms of manpower. Rivers never saw the bench he envisioned at the outset. Now, he potentially has an embarrassment of riches coming off the pine, with a dynamic, young wing player, depth at the power positions and two guys who can play the point.

But so much of this hinges on the Big Fella not only making it back, but being able to stay in the lineup once he is back.

"It will come. I really believe it," Rivers said.

He won't believe it until he sees it. But it looks like it's going to happen sooner rather than later, which has been the plan all along. It's just taken a little longer than most of us thought it would.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.