Rondo's still rehabilitating a torn ACL in his right knee, and like most other injuries in that area of the anatomy, the exact timing of his return is unknown. Boston general manager Danny Ainge previously said that Rondo could be ready for opening night—not long after he pinpointed sometime in December as the target date.
Danny Ainge on 98.5 suggests December return for Rajon Rondo.— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) September 24, 2013
That's the thing about ACL injuries, in particular, and knee injuries, in general: Once they happen, what comes next is damn near unpredictable.
Rose sat out the entire season to nurse his ACL. Meanwhile, Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert, who injured his right around the same time Rose did, returned to their respective teams before spring hit. The lesson: No two knee injuries are exactly the same. Random, unforeseen setbacks happen, player psyches differ and team goals and needs vary as well.
Still, there's something to be taken away from how each organization approaches such a serious injury, specifically with regards to the Bulls and Rose. They subjected themselves to dizzying amounts of criticism because of how they handled their star point guard's recovery and how the team's 2012-13 season was managed as a result.
Boston won't want to make those same mistakes, and it doesn't have to. The Celtics can learn from Chicago's blunders and, in turn, take control of what is often a temperamental situation.
Honesty's the Best Policy
Ainge is already swinging and missing in the truth department.
On more than one occasion, he's indicated the Celtics aren't tanking. These are the same Celtics who, really, don't have a legitimate center, plan on playing the 6'9" Jeff Green at shooting guard from time to time and who gutted the core of their roster in favor of more draft picks than you'd care to count.
No matter, that's typical behavior for tanking teams. Coaches, general managers and players are unlikely to come right out and admit to throwing an entire season.
There's a different dynamic to the injury game, though. Ainge and the Celtics cannot afford to create a false sense of hope by suggesting a time when Rondo will return. If he doesn't take the floor when they intimate he will, scathing commentary will flow freely, like Natty Lite at a cost-conscious house party.
This is one of the spots where the Bulls went wrong.
Coach Tom Thibodeau was never behind the mic predicting Rose would play tomorrow, but he and the Bulls played the "I don't know" card for far too long. Rose wasn't really ever ruled out for the season until Chicago met the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.
By then, it was too late. It was months earlier that Rose had been cleared to play. And he had already admitted he was entertaining the idea of sitting out the entire year. Either he or the Bulls should have come out and said they were shutting him down for the season. Then, if he returned, it would have been a pleasant surprise.
The NBA isn't a roulette table in Vegas. Sometimes, there are takebacks, something the Celtics would do well to remember.
Uncertainty is already defining Rondo's return, what with Ainge guessing when Rondo will play again. Which he shouldn't do. Ever.
Neither Ainge nor Rondo himself can predict what's going to happen next. The point guard admitted as much during an interview with CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely:
I definitely understand; Yes, I understand. He [Rose] got a lot of heat for why he didn't come back. Everybody who has had an ACL injury understands, it's not something you can just say, 'OK, (Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running back) Adrian Peterson came back in six months. Why did he come back in six months or eight months or 10 months?' Everybody's injury is different. Things can happen differently, within the knee. The human body can react differently. You have swelling, you have cartilage, you just ... so many things can happen that may cause a setback. Mentally, everyone's different. I talked to a lot of guys. I talked to Perk (former Celtic and Rondo's BFF, Kendrick Perkins); I talked to T.A. (former Celtic Tony Allen), I talked to (former New England Patriot wide receiver) Wes Welker. I think everyone of them told me they wished they would have waited a little longer.
Early on, "I don't know" is a more acceptable response than firing dates off at will. A few months into the process, when the use of "I don't know" expires and teams really still don't know, talk of shutting the player down for the rest of the year makes more sense.
Prepare for the worst, covertly hope for the best...that's the mindset Boston must buy into. Overestimate the time Rondo will be gone. That way, if and when the Celtics are wrong, it's a happy accident—not a months-long debacle filled with indecision and an apparent fear of coming to terms with the truth.
Don't Put the Healthy Ones At Risk
Coach Thibs is notorious for running his starters ragged.
When guiding contenders, his no-rest, no-water, no-breather approach to winning is more acceptable. Last season, it wasn't.
Chicago tallied 45 victories, an impressive pull when you consider the number of untimely absences they dealt with in addition to that of Rose's. But the Bulls weren't legitimate contenders. Not really.
Were they going to get past the Heat if the two met? No, and they didn't. It was never going to happen. Not without Rose who, on that version of the Bulls, was the only player able to inject life into an otherwise anemic offense.
That much should have been clear from the first game of the season, that the Bulls weren't going to win a title without him, making the abuse of overplaying players like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng pointless.
Noah averaged 36.8 minutes per game to Deng's 38.7. And an injury-prone and aging Kurt Hinrich logged nearly 30, more than he notched the previous season. What was there to gain by doing that? Prolonged absences by each of them?
Because that's what the Bulls got.
Desperate times, I know. I also understand the need to put the team in a position to contend should Rose have come back. Doing so at the risk of other players who had a propensity for sustaining injuries is bad for future business. Hinrich and Noah are still banged up, and, per NBA.com's David Aldridge, Deng was previously frustrated with how the Bulls handled his medical condition last season.
As he said back in Chicago, Jo is out tonight vs. Memphis...but he practiced yesterday, both he and Thibs indicated he should play in Rio— Aggrey Sam (@CSNBullsInsider) October 7, 2013
Creating the illusion that you're playing for something more than you really are, sans your best player, won't work. It didn't work for Chicago, and it won't work for Boston.
The case of the Celtics is different because they're clearly tank—er, I mean rebuilding. They're younger and certain players can stand to play more minutes.
Head coach Brad Stevens needs to get a feel for who those players are. Damaging the value of top prospects like Avery Bradley and Green—neither of whom are spitting images of durability—can prove counterproductive.
Spread the minutes out. Experiment more.
Protect the players who are healthy instead of increasing the chance they join Rondo in street clothes.
Patience Is a Virtue
One of the few things Chicago and Rose did right was waiting.
He didn't play, and it sucked. Doctors cleared him to play—though in the Windy City, medical professionals seem to clear players so long as they're sporting all four limbs—and still, he sat. Frustrating doesn't even begin to describe it.
But the Bulls made it through (barely) and now, according to Rose himself, have an even better version of their franchise cornerstone.
Although the temptation for Rose to rush back was there—for both Rose and the Bulls—they resisted, though rather poorly. Still, they thought big picture.
Just like the Celtics must do, only more so.
Chicago wasn't tanking rebuilding the way Boston is now. If and when Rondo does return, the Celtics still won't be playing for anything. And if by some miracle they were able to snag that seventh or eighth playoff spot in the East, what will they accomplish? A first-round exodus at the hands of Miami or Chicago? A guarantee that the Celtics won't land a top pick in a draft that, contrary to what Ainge says, is loaded with franchise-changing talent?
Cool. Way to further prolong a reclamation project that was already delayed two years.
When will Rondo return from his ACL injury?
On a larger scale, Rondo will turn 28 in February. He's at that age where he's not too old to build around but isn't exactly a fountain of youth. Whatever is the Celtics plan for him, be it eventually trading him or actually keeping him in green, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by throwing him on the court too soon.
A championship isn't going to be won in Beantown next season. Or the season after. If they want Rondo, the real Rondo, around for the long haul or long enough to flip him for more of those nifty draft picks, adorning him in bubble wrap for a year destined to be filled with more peril than security is the most logical move.
Who knows, if they're cautious enough, the Celtics might be bad enough to land one of those highly coveted draft picks Ainge doesn't want, but really does.