Expectations Set for Rondo's Return vs. LA

WALTHAM, Mass. – Danny Ainge made it official on Thursday: Rajon Rondo will return from his torn right ACL when the Celtics host the Lakers Friday night at TD Garden.

Fifty-one weeks have passed since Rondo has walked onto the court as Boston’s starting point guard. That streak will finally come to an end tomorrow, but as Ainge warns, we should not think that Rondo’s fight is over.

“What I’ve seen throughout my professional basketball career is that the ACL injury is something that every player has to overcome and come back mentally, not just physically,” Ainge told reporters on Thursday. “So I anticipate some adjustments and just getting used to playing and confident in playing and returning to the player that he was.”

Rajon Rondo puts in work on the practice floor

Rajon Rondo will finally return to NBA action after nearly a year of rehabilitation.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

As you might expect, Brad Stevens is on the same wavelength as his boss. Stevens views tomorrow’s game as the next step in Rondo’s rehabilitation.

“I don’t think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo tomorrow,” Stevens said. “This is part of this process to getting back to full go, and now the next step is to play a maximum number of minutes in a game.”

That maximum, according to Stevens, will be approximately 18-20 minutes per game. Ainge stated that Rondo would play about five minutes a quarter, but it sounds as if Stevens and Rondo will have the final say as to how those 18-20 minutes will be used throughout the game.

“I’m going to talk to him after practice,” revealed Stevens. “The plan of attack will be he will play 18-20 minutes and that would be a max. So then you decide how you want to disperse those and how you want to attack each portion of the game and all of those things.”

Neither Ainge nor Stevens would give an indication of how long the minutes restriction will be in play for Rondo. Both men did, however, mention how difficult it will be for the ultra-competitive Rondo to handle his temporary restriction.

“It’s going to be hard for him to have a minutes restriction,” said Stevens. “There might be some wind that comes along with that, but he’s going to want to play once he’s out there. That’s the way that works.”

Said Ainge, “Knowing Rondo, he’s going to be complaining about that and probably checking himself back into the game occasionally, because that’s who he is.”

Rondo is one of the world’s top basketball players who has averaged at least 36.6 minutes per game over his last four seasons. Now he’s going to be limited to playing about half of that number. The hope, though, is that his playing time will increase steadily over time. Stevens indicated that the team’s medical staff and Rondo himself will have the final say on that matter.

Regardless of Rondo’s minutes restriction and how long it may last, the guy is going to make an impact. A big impact.

We’re talking about the best passer in the league here. An NBA champion. A two-time assist champ. A four-time All-Star.

Having a player like that on the court will change the dynamic of the game. The Celtics have already experienced that as Rondo has participated in practices over the course of the past month.

“I think it’s just guys feel more comfortable in where they are, the position they’re in,” said Stevens. “I think people will be in position to take advantage of their best strengths, and hopefully that continues as Rondo gets into games, but in practice, it’s clearly shown itself true that he kind of lifts everybody around him.”

Oh, and by the way, “He gets the ball to people better than anybody around,” added Stevens.

Stevens hasn’t even coached Rondo in a game yet but he’s already likening him to some of the best offensive leaders of all time – regardless of the sport.

“He’s a guy, a lot like (Peyton) Manning and (Tom) Brady and all of those guys, he can see things and audible on the fly and it’s pretty good,” said Stevens. “So I want to talk to him about some of these things. He has a lot of freedom to make reads.”

Come Friday, Rondo will finally have an opportunity to make those adjustments in live game action. He will play 18-20 minutes, and he’s bound to make an enormous impact on the game.

That being said, we all need to temper our expectations for Rondo in the immediate future. This is a guy who hasn’t played a basketball game in a year, and he plays what could easily be described as the most challenging position in the NBA.

There will be some moments in which Rondo will not look like his old self. That’s an inevitable part of this process. If you’re in Ainge’s boat, though, you don’t expect those struggles to last for very long.

“I anticipate him coming back quicker than any of us think,” Ainge confidently stated. “He’s a guy that I think will fight through the adversity.”

Just like he has for the past 51 weeks.