Monday, July 5, 2010 Updated: July 6, 10:18 AM ET
Erden takes long route to Celtics
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was sort of like a grand reopening.
Just more than two years ago, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge introduced Semih Erden to the media in the days after the team selected him with the 60th -- and final -- pick of the 2008 draft.
Two years after he was drafted by the Celtics, Semih Erden played his first game for Boston in the summer league.
With his player an afterthought ever since, Ainge beamed like a proud father as he reintroduced Erden to reporters Monday night in Boston's makeshift locker room following the team's 87-82 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in their summer league opener at the RVD Sportsplex.
Erden officially signed with the Celtics on Monday, inking a deal that should pay him the rookie minimum of $473,604 this season.
Flanked by his manager and translator, Tolga Tugsavul, Erden engaged in a brief Q&A that was as rigid as his first performance in green. The 7-footer started at center, but labored at times over 22 minutes, scoring two points on 1-of-4 shooting with four rebounds and two turnovers.
Erden admitted he wasn't quite ready for the summer league. He's coming off a season in which his Turkish team -- Fenerbahce Ulker -- won the league title and he's already thinking ahead to the upcoming FIBA World Championships, which will be hosted in his native country.
Erden said he hadn't practiced since the end of his Turkish season, a near-three-week span as he tries to heal some minor bumps and bruises, including a sore back. But in the interest of learning the NBA style, he joined the team for the summer league and hopes to lean on his defense.
It's clear the Celtics envision Erden as a bit of a project and are preaching patience. Summer league coach Austin Ainge shared his father's enthusiasm for Erden.
"Semih's a little banged up, his back is sore, and he's not moving well," said the younger Ainge, coach of Boston's NBA Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. "But, hey, he's a legit 7-footer with length and once he learns English a little better and learns what we're doing, I think he'll help the Celtics."
Looking something like the lead singer in an indie rock band given his flowing locks and stubbly beard, Erden got caught out of position at times and looked a little slow getting up and down the court.
When the Thunder rallied late in the fourth quarter, Erden found himself benched in favor of rookie Art Parakhouski, the Radford College product via Belarus.
Erden didn't seem discouraged, suggesting that it's been his goal to follow in the footsteps of countrymen like Hedo Turkoglu and compete in the NBA.
He knows it's going to take time.
"It was a dream for me to come here," Erden said through Tugsavul. "It was my contract. We only had a buyout for this year."
Following the 2008 draft, Erden visited Boston just long enough to hold up a No. 86 jersey -- the year of his birth -- alongside J.R. Giddens (30th overall) and Bill Walker (47th) before returning to his native Turkey.
For the past two seasons, he lived up to the nickname of a draft's final pick: Mr. Irrelevant. Erden was out of sight and out of mind.
Giddens and Walker have come and gone -- both were shipped to the New York Knicks in the Nate Robinson-for-Eddie House swap at February's trade deadline. And now here's Erden, who will celebrate his 24th birthday this month, prepping for a role on what's shaping up to be the Celtics' 2010-11 revenge tour.
Erden could have never set foot in North America again and hardly anyone would have noticed. But with Boston facing a height deficiency this summer, the Green came calling.
Now, assuming he makes the team, Erden will at worst fill a Shelden Williams-like emergency role at the end of the bench. At best, he'll develop into the frontcourt force that some believe he can be.
Until then, even as he learns English, he's got the company line down.
"He wants to do the same thing he did in Turkey," translator Tugsavul said. "Get a championship with this team."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.