Romeo Langford’s rookie season with the Celtics will be remembered as much for what kept him off the court as for what he did on it.
Langford dealt with knee, ankle, groin, and hip injuries at various points. Some were inconveniences and others were more concerning. The forward tore ligaments in his right wrist in Boston’s final regular-season game in the Orlando bubble, but it was determined that he would be able to play through the injury during the postseason.
Then in the conference finals against the Heat he suffered an adductor strain, which would sideline him for several weeks. That malady at least sped up Langford’s wrist recovery, as he underwent surgery soon after. But there is still a long road ahead.
Langford had his hard cast removed on Tuesday. Now, he said, he is focused on regaining strength and range of motion before using the wrist for basketball activities. He is unlikely to return during the first half of the regular season.
“Hopefully I’m getting these injuries out of the way right now, and not worry about it anymore when I get down the road in my career,” Langford said. “Really it helps me to give it more time, watch more film, see the game, work on different things that need to improve, so that when I get back out everything isn’t all new, and I’m well-prepared and well-studied on things.”
Langford, the 14th pick of the 2019 draft, averaged 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds over 32 games during the regular season. He also played seven games with the Maine Red Claws, and the Celtics’ G League affiliate would normally offer Langford a chance to get game repetitions as he rehabs. But it’s unlikely that the Red Claws will play this season.
“I think we go into the season looking at it from the standpoint that Romeo will be an addition midseason to our team,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep him working, from the weights, to different film and video, to solely working on his left hand. That gets old, and I think one of the great challenges that he’ll do well with is maintaining the right mind-set through all of the mundane work, and that’s one of the challenges, I think, with long rehabs is that guys get into a rut very easily.”
Langford and assistant coach Joe Mazzulla have been working together, just as they did when Langford pushed back from his various injuries last season. Langford said the extra work with his left hand — especially ballhandling — has been helpful.
When Mazzulla was trying to get Langford to stop pushing the ball with his left thumb when he shot last season, he tried taping a ping-pong paddle to his hand as a deterrent. There hasn’t been anything quite that unusual this time, but Langford believes the sessions have been effective.
“I mean, we haven’t done anything too crazy like ping-pong paddle when I first got here,” he said. “Just basically like the basic things, just different passing, different dribbling, and then a lot of footwork exercises and workouts when it comes to dribbling. He has me using hurdles and the speed ladder while I’m dribbling with my left hand. Stuff like that.”
Gordon Hayward’s departure could open up new opportunities for Langford at the wing position, but Stevens made it clear he is not close to determining bench roles yet. And Langford’s primary focus now is having a healthy, sustained return.
“I think Romeo is going to be an NBA player for a long time,” Stevens said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. He’s got a great feel. He’s got a great athleticism. He knows the game, he works at the game, he’s a very good worker. So I think about it more in terms of he’s just missing half of his second season, or whatever it is, and I think that that’s hard when you already went through injuries as a rookie.
“The best ability is availability. But at the same time, he’s still a young guy and a lot of these have been freak injuries. So hopefully he’ll use all his bad luck now and have a great, healthy career after this.”