- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he's proud of the effort that point guard Rajon Rondo has put into his rehab and reaffirmed that he envisions Rondo as the foundation upon which the team will be built moving forward.
Speaking to a small group of reporters at the team's annual Shamrock Gala presented by New England Baptist Hospital, Ainge talked about his team's growing pains, his admiration for the way first-year coach Brad Stevens approaches his job, and offered praise for Rondo's effort in working his way back from ACL rehab.
"I think [Rondo is] doing great," said Ainge. "I think he’s working as hard as he can. I’ve been very proud of him of how he really wants to get out there and I think he wants to get out there, not for his own benefit, but he wants to really help the team. He sees how he’s missed and he just loves to play. He wants to get back for all the right reasons."
Asked if he still envisioned Rondo as the centerpiece for Boston's rebuilding process, Ainge offered a firm, "Absolutely."
Ainge admitted that, through eight preseason games, the Celtics have been inconsistent, but he believes they'll improve with time.
"We’ve been very inconsistent, which I think is typical of a young team that hasn’t played much together," said Ainge. "When they’ve played well, it’s been fun. When they have struggled, I think it’s to be expected, to be fair. Hopefully, they’ll get a little bit more consistent as the regular season gets going."
As Boston shapes its regular-season roster, Ainge suggested that, with the team virtually at the luxury-tax line, it's almost certain the team will carry only the 14 guaranteed contracts into the regular season.
"Right now we’re barely under the luxury tax, so we really have no choice," said Ainge. "If there are deals made later in the year, that would open up roster spots and open up to keep us under the tax. But we will stay under the tax this year. We have to. As we’re rebuilding, not just from a standpoint of the financial budget, but as a competitive advantage."
One thing that raised eyebrows was that, asked about the looming extension deadline for Avery Bradley, Ainge admitted he's been in negotiations with Bradley's camp but wouldn't comment further. That's a departure from last month when Ainge suggested that the team might wait until next summer, when Bradley would be a restricted free agent, to revisit his future with the team.
Read on for a few more quick hits from Ainge:
* On Gerald Wallace's leadership: "Gerald is one of our veterans, he’s been around the block, so he knows quite a bit about the league, and what it takes to win. He’s played a lot of minutes, I think he has a lot to offer our younger players... It’s tough to earn the respect of players. You don’t get it with just the title of coach, you don’t get it with title of veteran. You’ve got to earn it. I think Gerald earns it by the way he plays and the way he goes about his job. He’s just one of those guys that the players respect because of how he goes about his life."
* His impressions of Stevens through eight games: "I think I’ve shared with you guys before, that if I had the choice right now to tear up his contract or give him a four-year contract extension, it’d be the latter. He’s just a pleasure to work with; he’s very smart. And he just has a good deal of integrity and energy. I think the players see that, and so as a coach, there’s a lot of different ways to get the respect of players. And I think our players have a great deal of respect for him, just because of how genuine he is."
* On if he's excited to see his players dressed up for Thursday's event: "I'm probably a little bit more nervous and scared for what they might show up in. I don’t know, it’s all good. Fashion changes and I get a kick out of some of the fashion."