Rajon Rondo Will Return to Boston Celtics Lineup for First Time Since ACL Tear

Alex KayCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2014

Getty Images/Brian Babineau

Rajon Rondo is finally ready to make his triumphant return to the hardwood for the Boston Celtics.

Team president Danny Ainge says that after 12 months of vigorous rehabilitation, the Celtics superstar will join the lineup on Friday, Jan. 17, against the Los Angeles Lakers, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com:

The Celtics confirmed the news Friday night:

Stevens confirms that Rondo will start tonight. Says he'll play around 20 minutes. On mins restriction: "This is really part of his rehab."

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 17, 2014

Stevens: "I'm excited to have our best player on the floor. He's a guy who makes plays for others and (raises) everybody's game."

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 17, 2014

The point guard tore his ACL on Jan. 27, 2013, immediately ending his 2012-13 season and heralding the end of the “Big Three” era in Boston.

Nearly one year later, Rondo will re-join a drastically different team than the one he played for prior to his injury.

Boston traded future Hall of Famers and former Celtics teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets the night of the 2013 NBA draft, shortly after dealing head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The four-time All-Star will be the best player, by far, on the Celtics roster. His top teammates now include the likes of Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger—a group that makes this Celtics team moderately relevant, but certainly a far cry from a championship-caliber roster.

It’ll be interesting to see if Rondo continues to get along with new head coach Brad Stevens, as the mercurial guard notoriously clashed with Rivers on a multitude of occasions during their seven-year relationship.

Rondo claimed that he and Stevens were “best friends” during the offseason, according to Gary Dzen of Boston.com, but that could all change once the mercurial point guard steps on the parquet floor of TD Garden.

An interesting wrinkle to follow along with Rondo’s return is Boston’s unexpected position in the standings. The Celtics are currently in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with a 14-26 record and just 2.5 games behind Brooklyn for the No. 8 seed in the conference.

Due to the severe lack of talent in the Eastern Conference, the C's are very much in the playoff hunt with nearly half of the 2013-14 campaign already in the books.

However, the team is currently mired in a major slump, having lost 12 of its last 14 games, and Rondo will be counted on to help pull the Celtics out of it.

It definitely wasn't how most Celtics fans envisioned the season playing out over the summer.

Boston’s front office seemed to have waved the proverbial white flag during the offseason and appeared ready to embrace the tanking process. By employing a roster of unproven youngsters and aging veterans under a first-year head coach while Rondo rehabilitated from his ACL injury, the Celtics were projected to be firmly entrenched at the bottom of the standings.

Many thought that the team would explore the possibility of trading Rondo at or prior to the trade deadline, but Ainge recently told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald that he has no plans to deal his star player and that Rondo remains a big part of the club’s future.

Jan 23, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) takes the ball down the court in the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The 27-year-old still has high value around the league and is one of the premier stars at his position. Rondo has career averages of 11.1 points, 8.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game.

His playoff numbers are even more impressive, as the fierce competitor turns it on when the games matter most. He has averaged 14.5 points, 9.2 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals during the postseason.

If Rondo looks 100 percent healthy and confident upon his return, the Celtics could very possibly make a run in the Atlantic Division. The team will also have to decide whether to trade the superstar in exchange for future talent or hold on to Rondo and try to rebuild around him in the coming years.

Rondo has two years and about $25 million remaining on a reasonable contract. He will likely be one of the most aggressively pursued trade prospects as the February trade deadline approaches, especially if the Celtics slip down the standings.