With Boston playing its third game in four nights and the tail end of a back-to-back, birthday boy Rajon Rondo sat out Saturday's visit to Sacramento as a precaution as he navigates his way back from ACL surgery.
Earlier this week, as the team reconvened in Phoenix following the All-Star break, Rondo was asked if he felt old as he prepped for his 28th birthday.
"These guys, my teammates, they look at me like I'm a vet," said Rondo, who is playing his eighth NBA season. "I think you have to be at least seven or eight years to be a vet. I’m right at the cusp. I look at Gerald [Wallace] like he’s old and he’s only 31, so it’s like, ‘Eh, I’m right around the corner.’"
Rondo noted how Wallace has been in the league for 13 years and probably only seems older than he actually is. Realizing how close he is to Wallace's age, Rondo pledged to stop razzing him.
"I’m going to slow down on calling Gerald old," said Rondo.
The conversation soon shifted to whether Rondo is entering the key years of his NBA career and, as the Celtics navigate their rebuild, how important it is for Boston to accelerate through this process and maximize those years.
"I think 28 is your prime," said Rondo, who noted how someone like Kevin Garnett continues to thrive at age 37, but Garnett won the NBA's MVP award at age 27 and some of his best individual seasons came around that time. Rondo figures he has at least five more years to compete at his highest level, and since he missed a full year due to the ACL, he joked that he's actually only 27 in basketball years.
Even as he works his way back to the level he was at before the injury, Rondo said there's still another level to take his game to.
"I can still get better," he said. "I don’t think I’ve reached my peak. Some guys may reach their peak at 25 and max out, but I think I can continue to still get better and will get better."
We've seen glimpses of Rondo's expanding offensive game, the results of his work while rehabbing from the ACL injury. He's shooting a career-high 2.8 3-pointers per game this season and making a career-best 35.3 percent of them. He's also displayed a pull-up jumper in transition, another sign he's more confident in his shot and will take it when defenses give him space.
Rondo is still finding his touch, highlighted by his shooting woes around the basket thus far. After finishing 2-of-12 shooting with six points, 11 assists and six rebounds in Friday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Rondo was asked to assess his personal progress through 12 appearances.
"It’s hard to gauge," he said. "Some games are better than others. I’m not going to play great every game. This is one of those games where I could’ve finished better at the rim, but I didn’t."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens likes the progress he's seen from his point guard.
"He’s playing better. I think he can get a lot better. He’d be the first to tell you he’s not playing at 100 percent of what he wants," said Stevens. "But he is playing better every time out. We are evaluating him both offensively, in the statistical points, but also defensively, and I really think he’s tried -- in the last couple games, specifically against Phoenix -- really tried to defend at a high high level right out of the gates. I thought he did a pretty good job on [Goran] Dragic, who was playing exceptionally well. I think that’s really good. He’s a guy that we need -- we need everybody to defend at a high level for us to have a chance."
Rondo would much prefer to be on the court for his 28th birthday, but he's been patient in his rehab and has listened to his body. He doesn't want impatience to cost him any more of his prime years.