Word spreads like a blizzard among fans in NBA Development League cities, and the stands at the Portland Expo on New Year’s Eve reflected the latest possibility — that Rajon Rondo might actually use the Maine Red Claws as a resource in his recovery from ACL surgery.
“I wish I had shared a fan shot of the Rondo jerseys seen in the Expo on New Year’s Eve acknowledging the possibility,” Red Claws season ticket-holder Marie Bourque-Namer said via email last week. “Here is a little picture of Super Fan Kevin Jordan’s tattoo. Kevin, like many others, was wearing his Rondo 9 jersey. On New Year’s Eve, the Expo was a sea of green, just at the possibility!”
Jordan’s arm is a tattooed mural of Portland sports, dominated by the red logos of the Red Claws and Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox’ Double-A affiliate. These are balanced by Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox logos.
Maybe Jordan’s biceps have room for Rondo’s dispassionate stare. If what the Celtics guard said Thursday in Chicago comes true, he may soon have a rehab stint in Portland, and if he actually plays in a game with the Celtics affiliate, it would mark a D-League first.
Though Amar’e Stoudemire practiced with the Erie Bayhawks in December 2012 (the team actually traveled to the Knicks’ Westchester practice facility to facilitate the process for the recovering power forward), no major NBA star has ever used a D-League game as part of his recovery plan.
Lamar Odom once blocked a request by Dallas to play for the Texas Legends in May 2012 — the right of any player with more than three years in the NBA.
Rondo, on the other hand, appears to welcome the prospect.
“When it does happen it could be a trend-setting move,” Red Claws coach Mike Taylor said. “The situation is well-established in baseball. We’re moving in that direction [in the NBADL].”
The short-term benefit for a minor league team is obvious.
“We have seen how much excitement is added in baseball when big names come to the Sea Dogs for a couple of rehab games,” said Bourque-Namer. “I took my grandkids to see Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2012.”
This, of course, has been the NBADL’s plan all along — to further legitimize itself along the lines of minor league baseball. The Celtics, as such, now govern all player personnel decisions for the Red Claws.
Though Rondo may do nothing more than practice with the Red Claws, he’d be adding to the D-League’s growth. It’s no longer just the refuge of undrafted free agents, or former NBA stars such as Antoine Walker and Ricky Davis looking for a late-career chance.
“I think the league is in a growing phase, and it’s better than it’s ever been,” said Taylor. “It’s moving in that direction, the more that you get a one-on-one relationship between [D-League] teams and [NBA] franchises.
“I think it’s a situation that’s just starting to scratch the surface, and an example of that is what might be happening with Rajon,” he said. “The actual discussions for that are taking place in Boston. But we want to help them and play our part. We are 100 percent on board with them, whether Rondo comes or not.”
It’s also yet another way that Brad Stevens gets in on the ground floor of something new. The first-year Celtics coach, ever open to new ideas, loves the notion of bringing a recovering veteran up to speed via D-League games and practices.
Rondo’s greatest need now is to build his stamina and timing through game situations and practice scrimmages — opportunities the schedule-strapped Celtics don’t always offer. And when a sharper, more fit Rondo is ready for his NBA reintegration, the process will be all the more seamless for Stevens.
“And maybe you get some film out of it — some of these talking points you don’t get out of the season as much,” Stevens said of the chance to study Rondo’s initial steps. “There’s all kinds of positives to it, and I can understand why some guys are negative with it.
“(But) I think it’s a really creative and innovative way of looking at things,” he said. “I look at it more as a positive opportunity. When I was in college, the negative connotation was red-shirting. And then you ask any 22-year-old who has one year left if they’re glad they red-shirted, and the answer is, ‘Heck yeah, I’m glad I red-shirted, because I’m better than I would have been.’ These are great opportunities to play and condition. In the short term and long term it helps players to get better.”
And the crowd couldn’t be more appreciative.
“Without a doubt this is great for the fans,” said Taylor. “Rajon is a franchise player, an NBA champion. We try to build these bridges with the parent team. We’ve seen it with the Portland Sea Dogs. It could happen here, too.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services