"We’ve just seen examples of why we shouldn’t give dates of expected return," said Ainge, likely with a nod toward two recent high-profile ACL rehabs in Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Derrick Rose. "We’ll just take it week by week and he’ll continue to get evaluated, but he’s working extremely hard, and he wants to play. He’s excited for the new team. I think there was a time when all of [Boston's offeseason moves were] happening that he was sort of wondering, ‘Where do I fit in here?’ ‘What’s our team?’ But I think Rajon is in a very good place right now."
During an appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the SportsHub before the Shamrock Foundation's sixth annual Teeing up For Kids Golf Tournament at Wollaston Golf Club, Ainge guessed an early December return for Rondo, but stressed later that there is no firm timeline.
"I don’t think we would ever succumb to the pressure of bringing back a player from an ACL too soon," said Ainge. "We’ve got to do what’s right for him. He’s young -- maybe if he was 37 and it was his last year, but he’s still so young. And he’s our best player. We can’t afford to make any mistakes and judgment on when to bring him back."
Pressed on if Rondo could be back for opening night, Ainge offered, "I would be shocked."
That sentiment was backed up by new head coach Brad Stevens.
"My understanding, and the last time that we’ve had discussions about it, was that [Rondo's return is] very indeterminate still," said Stevens. "But it sounds like that it would be unlikely that he would be playing at the very start of the regular season. What that means beyond that, I think that’s going to be on his doctors, his training staff, him, making the call on when he’s ready. I’ve told him from Day 1, come back when you’re ready. I think it’s really important that he feels good when he’s back and ready to play."
Ainge said he expects Rondo to be with the team in Newport, R.I. for the start of training camp next Tuesday.
"Rajon will be in Newport, he’ll be watching and helping our young players and learning our system," said Ainge. "At the same time, he’ll be spending a lot of time on rehab."
Of course, nothing is set in stone, but this is the firmest answer we've been given on Rondo since he suffered the injury in January. And it's not surprising that the Cs are taking it slow with him. At the end of the day, the Celtics are not contending for anything this year (besides a possible 8-seed destruction by the Heat if the team overachieves), so why would you rush back your one true superstar talent from serious injury during a rebuilding season?
Originally I thought Rondo would be back opening night. Considering new advancements in ACL rehabs, eight and a half months (the amount of time from Rondo's surgery to opening night) is a completely realistic timetable for a guy in his prime like Rondo. But December just makes more sense in this scenario. That gives Rondo nine and a half to ten months to get his body back in playing shape, and more importantly, be mentally 100%.
Plus, in a season defined in some ways by draft position — not having Rondo for 15-25 games could be the difference between the 9th pick and the 5th pick (or something). And the Cs won't have to tank a single game to get it.