INDIANAPOLIS — There appears to be a few things Rajon Rondo has learned from tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament and the arduous rehabilitation that has him moderately close to coming back.
He has learned patience and humility. The Celtics don’t want a one-legged Rondo trying to play superhero and rescuing this erratic and inexperienced team while risking further damage. And the point guard doesn’t want that either.
After getting the hopes of fans excited after a five-on-five scrimmage following Friday’s practice, a calm Rondo refused to offer a return date after missing the past nine months. He said Sunday after the Celtics’ 106-79 shellacking at the hands of the Indiana Pacers that he may not return to the court in January.
While he later mentioned mid-January as a potential comeback date, Rondo was as unpredictable as his jumper when asked about his return.
He has every right to be patient, understanding the importance of health to a long career. He is a free agent after the 2014-15 season and he wants to spend whatever time remains before he gets on the open market free of any concern about his knee.
He said he doesn’t concern himself with the perils of Derrick Rose or Kobe Bryant, who took their time returning from major injuries only to sustain new ones a brief time later. But preventing further injury is foremost in his mind.
“I’m just listening to my body,” he said, “If my body told me I was 100 percent, I’d be playing now. I’m not.”
Friday’s scrimmage was an eye-opener. Rondo got tired. He was slow to defend in the second game. The fact that he wasn’t the tireless player of old was a wake-up call.
“It’s hard to gauge, it’s the first time I did anything full court. It just felt good being back out there,” he said. “I’ve had one practice and a pickup game, that’s about it. My endurance is key for me. I don’t want to come back and not be fully 100 percent as far as my health and me being in shape as well because the worst thing is me coming back and not being in shape and have another injury, so I want to make sure I’m in basketball condition.”
The Celtics have lost three consecutive games and are entering what they hope is a cleansing three-day break before returning to practice Thursday. Rondo will participate in those practices but the organization realizes he’s not as close to coming back as was speculated when he was playing one-on-one a month ago.
Rondo is the Celtics’ most precious commodity, regardless if they keep him or trade him. If he is the franchise cornerstone for the future, the Celtics want him playing on two pristine legs as he enters his prime. If he is going to be traded, the Celtics want him to be a frontline point guard that will attract the highest return.
So there is no need in rushing him back, regardless of how much the basketball public misses his pinpoint passes, energy, and floor leadership.
“I’m eager to play the game of basketball. It’s what I’ve been doing my entire life,” he said. “Never had a time where I had to sit out this much so it’s a very humbling experience. I just want to play the game. It’s a lot going on in my mind but team first. Once [the game’s] over, I want to play and while I’m out there I want to play. Everything happens for a reason and when I get back I’ll be ready to go.”
But it could be several weeks. And Rondo is being guided correctly during this process. The 12-17 Celtics will continue to plod along.
Hopefully this break will provide a sagging team the revival it needs and down the road, a healthy Rondo will get an opportunity to play with his new teammates. The scrimmage was a glimmer of hope. In one sequence, Rondo fired a pass that buzzed past the ear of Gerald Wallace and out of bounds. Wallace cursed himself for missing the ball, realizing that only a few gifted point guards could thread that pass.
It will take time for vintage Rondo to return, but he’s showing those signs. Yet, neither the organization nor Rondo wants him to return because the outside public believes it’s time. That decision is strictly Rondo’s.
“I have confidence in my knee,” Rondo said. “I’m excited to be playing the game of basketball again so it’s just a matter of me getting a lot of repetition, five-on-five basketball and just playing the game. It might be mid-January, late February, I’m going to come back when the time is right and I get my stamina.
“I don’t think I have to pass anymore tests. I have to pass tests for myself. I know what I felt like before I hurt my, when I get back to feeling that type of feeling the way I play the game, then I’ll be back.”