Rajon Rondo anxiously counts down the seconds. (Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
We know that Rajon Rondo enjoys games. We know that he's pretty into math — as Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins wrote in a February 2013 profile, Rondo's high-school math teacher used to make up special tests just for him, suspecting he'd cheated to ace the exams the rest of the class got, only to see Rondo (who was homework-averse and often slept in class) ace those, too. And we know that he's got something of a penchant for high-stakes, dramatic performance.
It's only fitting, then, that the Boston Celtics point guard offered the world this little numerological puzzle on Twitter on Monday night:
— Rajon Rondo (@RajonRondo) January 14, 2014
While I was plugging numbers into my handy date duration calculator, Boston Globe Celtics beat reporter Baxter Holmes cracked the code:
It actually goes even deeper than that — as ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg notes, Rondo "appears to have even calculated the exact differential in time between his surgery and tipoff on Friday. (The surgery would have been 11:07 a.m., figuring in Friday's 7:30 p.m. start.)"
If, indeed, Rondo's tweet was intended as a (somewhat arcane) announcement that he intends to return to the court for the first time since partially tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a Jan. 25, 2013, game against the Atlanta Hawks, that would mean his first game back would come at home against the Los Angeles Lakers — a date Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears reported last Friday that Rondo had been targeting for his first game action in nearly a year.
Despite Spears' report, Rondo and the Celtics have repeatedly declined to identify an ETA for the four-time All-Star point guard — even, as Holmes notes, before Monday's 104-92 loss to the Houston Rockets, mere hours prior to Rondo's cryptic tweet. The most clarification anyone with the Celtics had been willing to Rondo's recent promise to return before the mid-February All-Star break; should his now-hotly-anticipated return come to fruition Friday, he'll have made good with a month (and 14 regular-season games) to spare.
A Friday comeback would also cast Rondo's recent decision to pull out of a potential rehab stint with the Celtics' D-League affiliate in a slightly different light. Rather than being predicated on any sort of stigma of being "sent down," perhaps Rondo — knowing Jan. 17 was coming up quick — thought he'd be better served getting another week of practice work with the Celtics roster he'll be called upon to lead from the very second he sets foot on the floor for head coach Brad Stevens, who has seen his team fall on hard times after a surprisingly competitive start, losing nine in a row and 12 of its last 13.
That fall-off has dropped the Celtics out of the East's playoff picture (which is surely music to Danny Ainge's ears) and into a tie with the Utah Jazz for the league's fourth-worst record. Beyond just the likelihood of an increased number of ping-pong balls come this summer's draft lottery, though, that recession offers another benefit for Boston: the opportunity for Rondo to be slowly, gently reintegrated into live-fire action away from the heat of a postseason push.
Despite a month of practices since being cleared on Dec. 13, 2013, Rondo told Spears that his primary concern is not the knee, but his conditioning — that he feels like he can give the Celtics 10 good minutes right now, but not much more than that. If Boston were still leading the Atlantic Division 40 games into the season, there might be pressure to try to push Rondo past that point as soon as possible; with Boston now 7 1/2 games back of the division-leading Toronto Raptors and tied with the similarly diving Philadelphia 76ers for last place in the Atlantic, there shouldn't be any mass cry to ignore any minutes limitations. Merely getting Rondo back on the floor at all will be enough of a cause for celebration for Celtics fans who recognize the team is, by design, not going anywhere as presently constituted, but who still want something to cheer for as the winter drags on and the losses pile up. And if he can begin the process of doing that while causing some pain to those long-hated (and likewise suffering) dudes in purple and gold, well, then, so much the better.
It remains possible, of course, that Friday will come around, Rondo will remain in a suit, and that the Celtic's "Rent"-y tweet will turn out to have been a reference to something altogether different, like commemorating a vision of a particularly striking jacket he had just as the general anesthesia took hold and sent him under. If not, though, we're just four days away from seeing one of the league's truly unique, gifted and fascinating characters return to the court. Feel free to start counting the seconds, Boston fans. Your point guard clearly is.
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