Rajon Rondo has emphasized his desire to work himself into premium basketball shape before returning to the court. Following the Celtics’ loss to the Indiana Pacers Sunday, Rondo said his comeback date will be determined by how well he responds to ramped-up practices.
The second-most important focus as Rondo returns from knee surgery is getting accustomed to his new teammates. Since Rondo last played, Jan. 25 at Atlanta, the Celtics have undergone a major transformation. Only five players who participated in that double-overtime loss to the Hawks remain on the roster.
So Rondo is working with teammates who have no idea about his ear-buzzing passes or his relentless desire to get players the ball in certain spots.
“He looks comfortable, especially guarding screen-and-rolls,” said Gerald Wallace. “We’re trying to get his conditioning up, play five-on-five, and just get him into a rhythm of running the court. This is what he needs.
“He likes to pass. He’ll throw the pass in difficult situations. He makes passes that you’re not even looking for.
“That’s one of the things that, playing with him, you’ve got to get used to — that he’s going to always pass the ball, so if you’re open or if he thinks you’re open, he’s going to throw the ball.”
For Rondo, understanding where his teammates want passes and whether they are capable of corralling his John Elway-like deliveries will be a process.
“I just want to get as much practice time as possible,” said Rondo. “I haven’t practiced in 12 months. I just want to get back in the rhythm and flow of things, get my timing back.
“A lot of these guys I haven’t played with, so they don’t know where I am going to throw the ball. They’ve been playing with Jordan [Crawford] and Phil [Pressey] so I don’t want to come back and turn the ball over at a high rate.
“Just the pickup game I played the other day was good for guys knowing that certain passes they might not think are coming are coming, so I want to continue to get guys’ rhythm. Guys like Sully [Jared Sullinger], Gerald Wallace back cutting, Avery [Bradley] back cutting. I just got to find my personnel and know what we need to do.”
Rondo freely admitted he is far from game shape.
“We only played two pickup games and I was tired by the second one, so it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “We continue to go as hard as I can in those pickup games and practice time and get some repetitions and get my conditioning up. It’s very important.
“I’ve been on the three-on-three drills, dummy O, working on our offense, so I know the game and what we’re looking for for our sets. It’s a matter of getting over pick-and-roll, getting up and down the court, change of possession, end of the floor. Everything else basketball-wise, I’ve been doing.”
While the Celtics are only 12-17, they are just a half-game behind first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division and have been one of the league’s most surprising teams. Meanwhile, the Knicks and Nets have been major disappointments, and their struggles have left an opportunity for the Celtics to make a legitimate postseason run.
NBA TV’s Grant Hill and Dennis Scott touched on the Celtics’ success and the impact of first-year coach Brad Stevens.
“Danny [Ainge] has a good problem,” Scott said. “You have brought together a bunch of young guys who are playing for something. Let’s remind ourselves, the first week of the season, Gerald Wallace made it very clear he didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding.
“Obviously the conversation with he and Danny behind closed doors has gone well enough for Gerald Wallace to go back to being ‘Crash,’ rebound, play defense, make shots, be a veteran.
“He’s getting paid a lot of money, and if you can prove that, maybe I can keep you around when Rondo gets healthy and see how this thing plays out.
“Jordan Crawford has changed everyone’s mind. We thought he was a young, volume shooter and bad decision-maker, and now this year, he’s got more double-doubles. Jared Sullinger is playing better and Brad Stevens has shown all of us that yes, college coaches can come in with the right demeanor and right mind-set. And he’s come in and said, ‘This is the Brad Stevens Way, and you guys are going to buy in and I am going to put you in a winning situation.’
“Because the East is so bad, they may mess around and make the playoffs.”
Said Hill, “I’m sure internally, whatever their expectations were, they’re thinking about playoffs now.
“Players have pride, and so whether it’s Phoenix or Boston, teams that are picked to be bad, guys want to come out and have something to prove. I’m very impressed with what’s going on in Boston.”
Hill said no team should give away games for the sake of a better draft position.
“I don’t believe in throwing games — I believe there’s karma involved with that,” he said. “If you’re winning and you’re playing basketball, you want to build on that. You don’t want to go backwards.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.