WALTHAM — The Celtics are privately preparing for the return of Rajon Rondo, although Rondo remained mum Tuesday regarding his cryptic tweet late Monday that indicated he may return to the lineup Friday night against the Lakers at TD Garden.
Rondo smiled when asked to speak about the “29,233,380 secs,” he tweeted following the Celtics’ 104-92 loss to the Rockets. That is approximately 338 days, which would be the time between his Feb. 13, 2013 surgery and Jan. 17, the date of the Lakers game.
Rondo, a four-time All-Star, has not played since tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament at Atlanta Jan. 25, 2013. He was cleared to practice Dec. 13 and slowly has been working himself into basketball condition. Yahoo! Sports reported Friday that Rondo had set a Jan. 17 return date, a story he refuted a few hours later.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens denied Friday the team had discussed any potential return date for Rondo, but he was more optimistic Tuesday following the team’s practice at its training facility. He had seen Rondo’s tweet and refused to confirm Friday was the day, but he didn’t say it wasn’t, either.
“No, I heard he tweeted, in fact I saw the tweet, I thought it was how many people go back for Thanksgiving seconds,” Stevens joked. “He told me I was wrong but I’m still trying to figure out what it means. He’s a pretty bright guy who shares his thoughts in unique ways. I kind of gathered that he was coming back fairly shortly. I’m guessing everything I could tell, it’s not [Wednesday]. Obviously we’re playing for the very short term without him but hopefully we’ll have him back very soon.”
In conversations with reporters over the past few weeks, Rondo has expressed the most concern about getting into basketball shape and becoming winded during workouts.
Stevens said the team’s trainers and strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo will put Rondo through one more extensive workout Wednesday and he will practice Thursday in preparation for a return against the Celtics’ archrivals.
“We’re looking for his thumb to go up,” Stevens said. “That’s his call, along with our trainers and our doctors. There’s no basketball boxes that need to be checked.”
Stevens said he has not discussed minutes restrictions or whether Rondo would sit out the second game of back-to-back sets.
“I’m guessing there will be a minutes restriction,” he said. “He feels more comfortable playing, even as a guy who hasn’t played organized in a year, he’s still impactful in a big-time way with other people on the court with him. Yeah I would think there’s a chance he’s back Friday.”
Rondo’s teammates are eager for his return after practicing with him for a month.
“We need the wisdom he’s got, the leadership, another playmaker to make it easy on me and other players on the team, so it’s great to have him,” point guard Jordan Crawford said. “I’m very excited. To go in every game and try to create for yourself is tough. Teams get to scout you. You’ll get easier shots. I’m excited to play with him.”
Forward Jared Sullinger said he has spent time preparing for Rondo’s pinpoint and sometimes surprising passes.
“He threw a pass to me [Tuesday], it kind of blew my mind because I didn’t think he was going to pass it to me,” Sullinger said. “I forgot last year I was told by a seasoned vet to always have your hand up, so it was kind of shocking that he threw it.”
The Celtics don’t expect vintage Rondo after a full calendar year off. With most players coming back from ACL injuries, there are moments of fatigue, knee soreness, and rustiness over the first several weeks.
“You can’t put too much on Rondo,” Sullinger said. “Just because we know he’s going to be battling the mental thing, battling the fatigue, it’s going to be tough for him. We know if we put too much pressure on him, he’s going to [put] a lot of pressure on himself and we’re just going to make it as comfortable as possible for him to play.”
The Celtics announced late Tuesday that reserve guard Keith Bogans has been excused indefinitely from the team for personal reasons after he missed practice. Bogans was in uniform during the Celtics’ loss Monday and the team said he will remain on the roster and earning salary during his absence.
Bogans, acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce deal, has played in just six games this season. He last played Jan. 7, when he logged 13 minutes in a 129-98 loss to the Nuggets at Denver.