Rajon Rondo donned a uniform, ran out with his teammates, and participated in the layup line before Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, which the Celtics won, 88-83.
No, the All-Star guard wasn’t making his season debut after being sidelined while recovering from knee surgery. But Rondo was active, as coach Brad Stevens said he wanted to get Rondo “into that rhythm of pregame activity.”
Rondo also practiced with the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics’ Development League affiliate, Wednesday in Waltham, and Stevens said the workout, which was considered Rondo’s final physical hurdle before returning to action, “accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”
With that said, it appears Rondo is on track to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden, which would be his first NBA game since Jan. 25, 2013, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Atlanta.
As expected, Rondo, a four-time All-Star who has twice led the league in assists per game, will start at point guard when he returns, though Stevens said there would be yet-to-be-determined restrictions on how much he’ll play.
“Listen, if Rondo comes back Friday — and I still haven’t been told yes or no — but if he comes back Friday, he’s only going to play 18 to 20 minutes,” Stevens said after the game. “And he’s coming back from playing for the first time in a year. For any of us to expect him to be in playoff form is not fair to him. That being said, I think his energy and his leadership will lift our team. But I don’t think we should put too much on his shoulders anyways, whether we won the last game or lost the last game.”
Stevens attended part of Rondo’s workout with the Red Claws and liked what he saw.
“I think he enjoyed it because they kept score,” Stevens said. “His team usually won. But it was more about getting up and down the floor than anything.”
Red Claws forward Damen Bell-Holter, who was with the Celtics during their training camp, agreed with Stevens’s assessment.
“[Rondo] looked great,” Bell-Holter said. “He was shooting the ball well, obviously passing the ball really well. He was running up and down, and that was the biggest thing for him. To see him aggressively sprinting up and down the court, you could tell he’s definitely there.”
And how different was the Red Claws’ practice with Rondo?
“Just seeing how simple he makes the game, passing, it was good for our point guards to see how great of a passer he is,” Bell-Holter said. “For him to kind of school and talk to the guards and let them know how to get better, [it was good]. He’s a leader and he stepped in and started leading for us.”
Naturally, Rondo’s teammates are excited to have him back.
“We’ve been playing together in practice, and just his intensity and his enthusiasm as far as toward the game is something that I’ve been looking forward to playing with,” said Gerald Wallace. “He’ll open up the transition more. He’ll cause more havoc in the pick-and-roll. He’s able to find guys when those guys don’t even think they’re open. I think he’ll just make everybody else’s game a lot easier offensively.”
League sources said that guard Keith Bogans has been excused from the team indefinitely in part because of his frustration over lack of playing time.
Bogans, acquired this offseason from Brooklyn, has played just 55 minutes in six games with the Celtics. He left the bench during the second half of Monday’s loss to the Rockets. In that game, Stevens put backup shooting guard MarShon Brooks into the game ahead of Bogans in the second half.
Bogans wasn’t present at practice the following day, and on Tuesday night, the Celtics announced that Bogans had been excused indefinitely for “personal reasons” and that he remains under contract.
Stevens didn’t elaborate on the situation before Wednesday’s game, only saying, “I personally like Keith and that’s where I’ll leave it.”
Wallace said he spoke to Bogans briefly on Tuesday.
“I really don’t know what he has going on or what he has going on with that situation,” Wallace said. “Like I told him, I’m here. Whenever you want to talk, just call me. When he wants to talk about it or deal with it, he’ll give me a call.”
The 33-year-old Bogans has played for nine teams in 11 seasons. He is making $5.1 million this season, but the final two years of his contract are not guaranteed.
Because of the size of his contact, the Celtics would prefer to deal Bogans this offseason in exchange for a serviceable player or assets, and then the other team could waive Bogans to clear cap space.
In his first career start, undrafted free agent rookie Phil Pressey had 10 assists and zero turnovers in 26 minutes.
“He was terrific,” Stevens said. “I thought he was absolutely terrific. I thought when things got tough, he got tough. I thought he tried to pull guys together.
Stevens added later, “Phil has had a tendency in certain games to change the pace of the game and he did it again tonight in a lot of ways for us. He’s going to be a critical component of our team this year and I think that’s a really good thing.”
Pressey said he didn’t learn he was starting until Wednesday morning, when the team had agreed to trade starting point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State in a three-team deal.
“The guys, they embraced me from the start, like I’ve been there from Day 1, so it was very easy for me to step in and help my team out,” Pressey said.
While Pressey missed all five shots, the fact that he didn’t turn it over once was most impressive, considering the circumstances.
“I know if I take care of the ball, I’m giving my team an opportunity to get more shots up,” he said. “And that’s what I pride myself on.”