- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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MILTON, Mass. -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he'd be "shocked" if Rajon Rondo was ready for the start of the regular season Oct. 30, and hinted that an early December return is more likely for the All-Star point guard.
Rondo underwent surgery in mid-February to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. While the team initially set an aggressive timeline in hopes of having him ready for the opener against the Toronto Raptors, Ainge hesitated to offer any firm return date and said the team will now take it slow with Rondo.
"We've just seen examples of why we shouldn't give dates of expected return," said Ainge, likely with a nod toward two recent high-profile ACL rehabs in Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. "We'll just take it week by week and he'll continue to get evaluated, but he's working extremely hard and he wants to play. He's excited for the new team. I think there was a time when all of [Boston's offseason moves were] happening that he was sort of wondering, 'Where do I fit in here? What's our team?' But I think Rajon is in a very good place right now."
During an appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the SportsHub before the Shamrock Foundation's sixth Teeing up For Kids Golf Tournament at Wollaston Golf Club, Ainge guessed that Rondo might return in early December, but he stressed later that there is no firm timeline.
"I don't think we would ever succumb to the pressure of bringing back a player from an ACL too soon," Ainge said. "We've got to do what's right for him. He's young -- maybe if he was 37 and it was his last year, but he's still so young. And he's our best player. We can't afford to make any mistakes in judgment on when to bring him back."
Pressed on whether Rondo could be back for opening night in Toronto, Ainge offered, "I would be shocked."
That sentiment was backed by new coach Brad Stevens.
"My understanding, and the last time that we've had discussions about it, was that [Rondo's return is] very indeterminate still," Stevens said. "But it sounds like it would be unlikely that he would be playing at the very start of the regular season. What that means beyond that, I think that's going to be on his doctors, his training staff, him, making the call on when he's ready. I've told him from Day 1, come back when you're ready. I think it's really important that he feels good when he's back and ready to play."
Ainge said he expects Rondo to be with the team in Newport, R.I., for the start of training camp next Tuesday.
"Rajon will be in Newport, he'll be watching and helping our young players and learning our system," Ainge said. "At the same time, he'll be spending a lot of time on rehab."
The Celtics must find options to fill Rondo's minutes at the start of the season, and the only pure ball-handler currently on the roster is undrafted point guard Phil Pressey. Ainge said that the current depth chart would feature Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford and Pressey. Stevens later hinted that Bradley has the ability to be the team's top point guard option without Rondo.
Earlier this summer, Bradley -- a natural shooting guard -- offered to shoulder some of the point guard duties if Rondo wasn't ready, but he has struggled with pressure at times at that position, most notably during Boston's first-round playoff exit against the New York Knicks last season.
"Avery is a guy I really believe in," Stevens said. "I think Avery has a lot of opportunity to be a very, very good player on both ends of the floor. I don't know exactly how we'll progress from here, as far as that goes with regard to if Rajon is in, who's in what role, but I know Avery will be on the court. I think he's a guy that, when you look at him on both ends of the floor, he's a guy that I think we can fit in well offensively at the point guard spot.
"I think he's really excited about playing it. And then, defensively, he can be elite. And so you've got one whole end of the floor where you've got an elite guy at the position and you've got to best figure out how to put him in a position to be successful."
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss