Stretching the Field: Celtics, Rondo must be patient together

( - The Boston Celtics aren't banking on Rajon Rondo to turn this so-far shoddy season around when he makes his season debut Friday.

It's nice to have the last remaining piece to the 2008 championship season back on the floor, but it will take some time for Rondo to get acclimated with the sport he has dominated his entire life.

Much like injured players in the NFL getting back to football shape, it's all relative in basketball. Rondo's conditioning will not be at 100 percent when he takes the floor versus the rival Los Angeles Lakers because he has been recovering from surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last January against Atlanta. He posted his fifth triple-double of the season in the loss to the Hawks.

Thanks to modern-day science and technology, coming back from torn knee ligaments has been easier than in years past. Too bad Gale Sayers couldn't take advantage during his days with the Chicago Bears.

There are many athletes who have their membership cards to the torn knee ligament club and Rondo punched his less than a year ago. Now he is ready to test the knee and is expected to play about 18 to 20 minutes in his debut.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge cautioned when he said it will take time for Rondo to get comfortable after an extensive period away from the game.

"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 said Thursday. "So I anticipate some adjustments and just getting used to playing and confident in playing and returning to the player that he was."

Rondo, who is nearing Celtics legend and Hall of Famer Bill Russell on the franchise's all-time assists list, got some work in with the Maine Red Claws, Boston's NBA Development League affiliate.

"(Rondo) looked great," Red Claws forward Damen Bell-Holter told the Boston Globe. "He was shooting the ball well, obviously passing the ball really well. He was running up and down, and that was the biggest thing for him. To see him aggressively sprinting up and down the court, you could tell he's definitely there."

Rondo is well known throughout the NBA as a distributor and will take pressure off some of his teammates who had been trying to share the scoring load without the four-time All-Star. Rondo, though, doesn't shoot the lights out much like Kevin Durant or LeBron James and averaged a career-high 13.7 points per game twice in his career.

He is a great defender and a valuable asset in the trade market, as he has this season and next on his contract. Ainge may deal the slick point guard to continue building for the future.

But as for basketball, Rondo is returning to a squad that has lost 12 of its last 14 games, but ended a season-high nine-game slide with Wednesday's 88-83 victory versus Toronto. Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford handled most of the point guard duties with Rondo on the mend, and Crawford was just traded to Golden State in a three-team deal. So it will be mostly Rondo and Bradley running the backcourt.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has probably never experienced this kind of struggle as a coach, isn't expecting much from Rondo just yet.

"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."

Stevens' plan of attack will be to play Rondo for the 18 to 20 minutes and see how he feels after that before adding more time. Stevens has yet to coach Rondo, but knows he plays with a lot of energy and emotion. Not that Rondo will clash with his new coach, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he becomes somewhat irritable about a minutes restriction.

Stevens compared Rondo to some of the great athletes in sports.

"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," Stevens said. "So I want to talk to him about some of these things. He has a lot of freedom to make reads."

Another issue that could set Rondo off is the talent around him. Paul Pierce. Gone. Kevin Garnett. Gone. Jason Terry. Gone. Ray Allen. Gone. Rondo's left to work with leading scorer Jeff Green, an emerging Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass and Bradley. Not much star power there. Losing often is not something with which Rondo is accustomed, but for the time being, he has to deal with the current roster.

Boston can still make the playoffs in the ultra-weak Eastern Conference and is three games off the final postseason spot even at 12 games under .500 (14-26).

The addition of Rondo, if he's able to shake off the rust in due time, can only improve the Celtics' chances of turning this rebuilding process around.

Then again, other teams may come calling for Rondo's services and that will only put Boston right back where it started and leave Ainge with a difficult choice to make.