Celtics GM Danny Ainge Eyeing Opening Night for Rajon Rondo's Return

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2013

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics practices shooting prior to a game against the Detroit Pistons on April 3, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Rondo, who is out for the remainder of the season, underwent ACL surgery in February. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics are down Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but they may not be without Rajon Rondo for much longer.

Rondo tore his ACL back in January, ending his season while also throwing a wrench in the Celtics' championship aspirations. Though no concrete timetable behind his return has been provided, ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg says that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes the All-Star point guard might be ready to start the season:

[...] Ainge has suggested that the team and the player have eyed a return for the start of the season. That's something Ainge echoed earlier this month while noting that the team and training staff were encouraged with Rondo's rehab thus far.

Ainge did admit that the team might have to take it slow with Rondo during training camp starting in late September, but said being ready for opening night in late October was a reasonable goal.

After Ainge shipped Garnett and Pierce (and Jason Terry) off to the Brooklyn Nets, Rondo instantly became the most important player in Beantown. Inserting him back into the lineup would be huge for the organization.

The Celtics must ensure they're not being too aggressive in pushing for an opening-night return, though. Rushing him back for a team in the thick of an extensive rebuild makes little sense.

Were he to struggle out of the gate or re-injure himself, he'd be of virtually no value to a team that desperately needs him to both play and lead at a superstar level.

Rondo underwent surgery in February, and an October debut would come just over eight months into his recovery process. Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-13 campaign while rehabbing his torn ACL. Nursing a partial tear, Rondo's injury isn't considered as severe.

Still, a torn ACL is a torn ACL. For a player like Rondo who relies heavily on his quickness, it's best to take things slow. Per Forsberg, Pierce even seemed to be under the impression that Rondo wouldn't take the court before December or January.

Assuming he is, in fact, ready to go, the boost he provides emotionally and tactically allows the Celtics to put a whole new spin on their season.

They would remain immersed in a rebuild, but the year becomes less about how close they'll come to drafting Andrew Wiggins in 2014 and more about the evolution of Rondo as a leader.

Sans Garnett and Pierce, the team is his. Barring any unforeseen trades, he's the one the Celticsmost notably rookie head coach Brad Stevenswill look to, hoping he can help the troops and their city weather this storm.

He can only do so much as a cheerleader on the sidelines. The Celtics need him back on the court in a big way.

If all goes according to Ainge's plan, on the court is exactly where he'll be come opening night.