WALTHAM, Mass. -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge confirmed the worst-kept secret in the NBA: Barring a setback after Wednesday's activities, Rajon Rondo will make his 2013-14 season debut on Friday night against the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Celtics have played coy about Rondo's status, all indications have been that Rondo would return Friday. Rondo Tweeted earlier this week hinting at that date by offering the time (in seconds) between his surgery and Friday's tipoff. His teammates have been careful in what they have said about his potential return, but have often hinted at the Friday return as well.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday at the team's practice facility, Ainge noted, "Barring any setbacks, I think [Rondo is] planning on playing tomorrow."
So what does Ainge expect from Rondo after nearly 12 full months off the court?
"I’m not sure. He hasn’t played for a year," said Ainge. "What I’ve seen throughout my professional basketball career is that the ACL injury is something that every player has to overcome and coming back mentally, not just physically. I anticipate some adjustments and just getting used to playing and feeling confident and returning to the player that he was. And I think he will get there, and I don’t know how long it will take, if that means a week or a month or what. He has to get back out on the court and he has to try it, and now is as good a time as any."
Rondo will be thrust back into the starting lineup immediately, but both Ainge and coach Brad Stevens said he will have a minute restriction, likely playing five-minute bursts aimed at allowing him to go full throttle during his initially limited floor time.
"I'm going to talk to him after practice, and the plan of attack will be he will play 18 to 20 minutes, and that would be a max," said Stevens. "So then you decide how you want to disperse those and how you want to attack each portion of the game and all those things. So that's what we're going to talk about. Obviously, he is our starting point guard, so I want to make sure we figure out the right minutes for him so he doesn't get too stiff on the bench and all that other stuff."
Added Ainge: "Knowing Rondo, he’s going to be complaining about [a minutes restriction], probably checking himself back into the game, occasionally, because that’s who he is. But that’s the game plan."
Rondo was briefly assigned to the Maine Red Claws of the D-League on Wednesday as the Celtics brought the team to their Waltham training facility to allow Rondo to go through a hard practice heavy on game-like situations. That was the final hurdle in determining if he was indeed ready to return to NBA action.
In an hourlong session, Rondo and the Red Claws engaged in a series of five-minute games (simulating his impending game action), then did fullcourt transition work. Ainge noted that Rondo took the Red Claws, who had just returned home from a west-coast road trip, to dinner Wednesday night to thank them for providing his last hurdle.
"We’re grateful for the Red Claws coming down here, and Rondo rewarded them with dinner last night, that was nice," said Ainge. "And I think he was very grateful that they stayed here and I think those guys had a fun time also."
How did Rondo look during the workout?
It’s practice, he looked good and he’s ready to play," said Ainge. "He looked good. He looked like the best player on the court."
Rondo, who tore his ACL in late January last year, returned to the active roster during Wednesday's win over the Toronto Raptors as a dress rehearsal for Friday's game. His return will come 11 months since undergoing surgery.