Why Boston Celtics Must Be Careful with Rajon Rondo

Joshua J Vannuccini@@jjvannucciniSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 16, 2014

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 15: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics during the national anthem before the game against the Toronto Raptors on January 15, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It's been a long time coming, but the Boston Celtics will see Rajon Rondo in uniform very shortly. Getting him back will be a big boost for the Celtics, but the team must be very cautious in bringing Rondo up to speed.

Per a report from Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears, Rondo will target Boston's matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday as his return date. It's fitting it'll be against the longtime rival of the Celtics, but more so that it will be in front of the home crowd of the TD Garden.

Rondo recently spent time in the NBA's D-League to get back into form, as he last suited up for competitive basketball on January 27 last year. Boston recently shipped out Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks in a three-team deal for Miami Heat center Joel Anthony and a bundle of draft picks in an effort to ensure Rondo will have a solid slot in the rotation.

As aforementioned, Rondo will be returning to the NBA after an almost 12-month absence. Players can be rusty with their craft after a few weeks, so it's possible the All-Star Rondo we're used to won't show up for quite some time.

It's also feasible Rondo will be 100 percent ready, given the patience and steady training he's been through up to this point. In any case, Boston should rely on the former scenario.

The Celtics are hardly rushing Rondo back into the lineup but should start him off with a limited role.

Rondo has long been one of the best point guards the NBA has to offer, with a perfect balance of offensive and defensive versatility. Distributing has always been his best skill, leading the NBA in assists per game the past two seasons.

Being thrown back into the fray will impact this, but only for a while. Rondo has taken his time to return, and there's been no ill reports of struggling or poor adjustment based on his time with the Maine Red Claws in the D-League. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Rondo "looked pretty good," but he went on to admit his point guard will be limited early on:

I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We'll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there.

It's encouraging to see a rookie coach like Stevens instilling a level of control, especially over a veteran like Rondo. That's more of a credit to Stevens than a knock on Rondo, but the fact he's taking strides to ensure he eases back into the rotation is terrific.

An example of the opposite is Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni pushing Kobe Bryant too early after his return from a torn Achilles tendon. Bryant averaged 29.5 minutes per game in six games this season (13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting) before missing another extended period of time (knee).

D'Antoni isn't to blame for that, but Bryant's body wasn't entirely ready to be pushed through so much so early. Regardless of his recovery time, Bryant still needed adequate time to get back up to speed and didn't have the opportunity.

Rondo clearly has the desire to do so with Boston, as recovering with help from the D-League isn't something many players would submit to. Stevens has already made it evident he's limiting his All-Star guard early, so it's comforting to know it's an all-around attitude concerning Rondo's return.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 15: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics warms up prior to the game against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden on January 15, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
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In another regard, keeping Rondo limited for a stretch would allow the Celtics to improve their fortunes in the upcoming draft. This season could be called "lost" for Boston, based on the team's construction and the process of starting over. Enabling Rondo to keep the team competitive is excellent, but it has the potential to both hinder his health and the Celtics' luck in the draft.

No team will ever admit to tanking for a higher lottery pick, but it's a beneficial strategy. Especially for a rebuilding team like Boston.

With the three-team trade this week, the Celtics now have an enormous collection of draft picks. According to a breakdown by ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg:

2014 Draft 
1st round: Boston, Brooklyn*, Philadelphia** 
2nd round: None 
* Atlanta has right to swap with Brooklyn; will convey worse pick to Boston   
** Philadelphia's pick is lottery protected 

2015 Draft 
1st round: Boston, Clippers, Philadelphia* 
2nd round: Boston, Philadelphia**, Sacramento*** 
* Philadelphia's pick is lottery protected   
** Philadelphia conveys if in lottery in 2014 and 2015   
*** Only conveyed if between picks 56-60 

2016 Draft 
1st round: Boston, Brooklyn 
2nd round: Miami, Philadelphia* 
* Philadelphia conveys if in lottery in 2014 and 2015 

2017 Draft 
1st round: Boston* 
2nd round: Boston**, Sacramento*** 
* Boston has option to swap with Brooklyn   
** If Boston swaps with Brooklyn, it loses pick if between 46-60   
*** Only conveyed if between picks 56-60   

2018 Draft 
1st round: Boston, Brooklyn 
2nd round: Boston 

2019 Draft (and beyond) 
1st round: Boston 
2nd round: Boston 

There's a ton of technicalities involved in which picks end up where, but that's potentially 17 picks over the next five seasons for Boston.

Obviously, the Celtics can't keep Rondo under wraps for long, but the preparation by Danny Ainge to ensure Boston has a bright future in the draft has been nothing short of spectacular. 

For now, however, bringing Rondo back without haste has two upsides. His steady return will ensure he's both healthy and gradually eased back into the NBA level of competitive basketball. Rondo won't be an All-Star immediately, but he will undoubtedly return to that echelon in time.

On the other side of the playing field, keeping Rondo in a lesser role potentially confirms a higher draft status for the Celtics. The upcoming draft has a plethora of intriguing prospects, and adding one or two alongside Rondo will give Boston a very, very bright future.

Rondo still has a lot of basketball left in him, and ensuring it's preserved for the long haul is the best route for the Celtics. The concept of trading should be refuted repeatedly because, despite being inactive, Rondo has the potential to return as strong as ever and lead Boston's exciting rebuilding project.

It's just a matter of time before he does so.