PHILADELPHIA — Celtics vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Monday he has been especially impressed with the progress of Rajon Rondo since his return from right knee surgery and is looking forward to Rondo returning next year.
Rondo, who had 8 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in a 113-108 loss to the 76ers Monday night after missing two games because of a bruised left shin, entered the contest averaging 12.8 points, 11 assists, and 5.5 rebounds in his past 19 games. Rondo, who was elbowed in the jaw and knocked down in the first half against the 76ers, has said he is looking forward to a full summer workout regimen as he is finally nearing full health.
“I think Rondo’s going to have a great year next year,” Ainge said. “I think he’s going to have the best year of his career. Watching Rondo right now and watching him develop as a player I feel like he’s headed towards the best year of his career.”
Rondo has been mentioned several times in trade rumors this season. When asked if there was a good possibility Rondo would be with the Celtics next year, Ainge said, “Of course.”
When asked if he has spoken with Rondo about the guard’s long-term future in Boston, Ainge said: “Listen, I tell everybody the same, whether it’s KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, whatever, I really love and respect all the guys but I can’t ever promise anybody that [a trade] won’t happen. That’s not my job. My job is not assure them [they’re staying] but to do what I think is best for the Celtics. I don’t have an intention or plan [to trade Rondo] but I can never make that sort of promise.
“I don’t know who’s going to be in a Celtics uniform. We have a lot of work to do this summer. I think Rondo is our best player.”
With the Celtics missing the playoffs, Rondo will get some extra time to rest before working himself into premium condition for next season. He also has said he will reduce his off-the-court obligations.
“I think he’s getting there,” Ainge said. “I think a summer of more rehab and a little bit of the extra rest, I really believe he’s going to put the extra time in and that’s why I sort of feel like this was a transition year for him in just coming back.
“I think Rondo would have felt bad and probably wouldn’t have come back as early as he did had our team been winning a lot of games. It’s hard for a player not playing the way that they’re used to and he’s a great player with great pride. But I think in his mind and what I see on the court, he’s gotten over that. I’m really excited about next year for him.”
Rondo increased the Celtics’ healthy body count to nine, one more than during Saturday night’s 111-99 win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
As for the rest of the ailing, the news was not so encouraging.
Jerryd Bayless, who left Friday night’s win over the Bobcats with a hyperextended right knee, did not make the trip and is likely out for Wednesday night’s season finale against the Wizards at TD Garden. In 41 games with the Celtics after being acquired from the Grizzlies Jan. 7, Bayless averaged 10.1 points and shot 41.8 percent from the field. Following the All-Star break, those numbers rose to 11.4 points and 43-percent shooting.
Jared Sullinger likely won’t play Wednesday, either. He badly sprained his left ankle in Friday night’s win and the injury has been slow to heal.
“If it was a playoff situation, I would definitely try it out,” he said. “But I still don’t think if it was playoffs I would be able to go.”
Finally, Kris Humphries, who worked feverishly Saturday to play against the Cavaliers before being a late scratch, said his sore right knee isn’t responding well and he likely won’t play Wednesday. Humphries will be an unrestricted free agent and said he does not want to risk a major injury.
Tracking the lottery
With one game left in their season, the Celtics (25-56) have the league’s fifth-worst record. The Kings are three games ahead of the Celtics, meaning Boston will enter the draft lottery May 20 with no worse than the sixth-best chance to land the first overall pick.
The Jazz (24-57) have the fourth-worst record and the Magic (23-58) have the third worst, and both have just one game remaining.
Utah finishes the season at Minnesota Wednesday. The Lakers (26-55) travel to San Antonio to finish their season Wednesday.
Ties will be decided by coin flips. Season series are not counted in deciding lottery chances.
Wednesday night at the Garden, the Red Auerbach Award will be presented to the player who “best exemplifies the spirit of what it means to be a true Celtic through performance on the court and off.” Candidates are likely Jeff Green, Sullinger, and Brandon Bass . . . When a Philadelphia reporter asked if Nerlens Noel was playing, 76ers coach Brett Brown responded: “That’s funny.” Noel, who turned 20 Thursday, has missed all season recovering from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament and wanted to return when the 76ers played in Boston April 4, but the club decided to shut down the Everett High product until next season . . . Ainge said the Celtics will only field a summer league team in Orlando in July. The Celtics have played in Orlando the past few years but also fielded a team in Las Vegas two years ago.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.