Now Celtics' centerpiece, Rajon Rondo easing into relationship with new coach Brad Stevens


BOSTON — It’s particularly early here in the Celtics’ on-the-fly rebuild, but th

e status of the program can be summed up by the two guys who sat at the podium for postgame press conferences on Wednesday evening — 37-year-old coach Brad Stevens and rehabbing point guard Rajon Rondo .

Stevens had just watched his team complete an eyesore of a preseason with a win over Brooklyn that brought the Celtics to 2-6.

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Rondo, meanwhile, made mention of the fact that he had been fitted for a brace — an important step in his rehab, and one that could signal a return to full-contact practice soon. Rondo put the knee that houses his surgically repaired ACL at, “87 percent, give or take, depending on how my day goes,” and added that while he has no timetable for return, “I know it’s getting stronger each week and whenever I am able to jump off my right leg and probably dunk, that’s when I think I will be back to play.”

Obviously, the Celtics need Rondo back on the court. But what is taking place off it is cause for some encouragement in these parts. Rondo and his coach, it seems, are hitting it off.

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“Brad isn’t really strict, he lets you go out there and play the game,” Rondo said. “He just wants you to approach every possession extremely hard. I think that’s the way I approach each game and, offensively, he has an offense where we pretty much flow into things as far as pick-and-rolls, getting the ball into the post. Whoever has it going, that is how he coaches the game. It’ll be fun to get back in and go out there and do a little bit of what I do best. Lot of pick and rolls, make my teammates better when I come back.”

As with just about everything involving Rondo, there must be some context included. Back when the Celtics originally pulled off the surprise hiring of Stevens out of Butler, the assumption among the NBA’s observer class was that Rondo was not long for Boston; that he would have a toxic relationship with his inexperienced coach; that he would bristle and buck against the watered-down roster the Celtics have assembled in the wake of the trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn . Ultimately, it looked as though Rondo was on a collision course to be traded.

None of that has come to fruition, not yet at least. And it shouldn’t be expected to come to fruition in the short term. Sources have told Sporting News that Rondo has never talked with Stevens or team president Danny Ainge about any sort of trade and, rather, has been merely focused on returning to lead the Celtics. Even excited about it.

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Anyone who has followed Rondo would not be surprised by this outlook. Back when he was a rookie in 2008, Rondo bristled at the notion that he was the weak link in the Celtics’ championship run, and he never really let go of that notion. It was the way in which he was pushed off the marquee by Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen that led to the much-documented outbursts Rondo had when Doc Rivers was the coach. The trade of Kendrick Perkins — one of Rondo’s closest friends on the team — to Oklahoma City in 2011 helped cement his dissatisfaction.

Thus, when Rondo says that Stevens really isn’t strict, the unspoken element there is that Rivers was strict, at least in the early going, and especially when it came to Rondo.

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Now, though, Rondo is the unquestioned star of the Celtics’ show, and the leader of the franchise. That is the role he has wanted all along — he is not about to risk that status by making life difficult for Stevens. Remember, too, that he has a career to consider. After this year, Rondo is a free agent, and will be 29 years old. He will make $12.9 million next year, but after that, he could be in line for something in the neighborhood of a max contract.

It behooves him to be a good soldier for Stevens. Whether he signs with the Celtics long-term or winds up elsewhere, his value will be affected by his attitude and approach. Being a leader on this team is not just good for Rondo as a competitor, it is good business.

Stevens appears to be having an impact. No one is confusing him with Phil Jackson, but Stevens did take a Zen-like step when he gave Rondo a book to read, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Rondo said he has finished that one up and that Stevens has given him a second book (Rondo declined to offer the title). “I haven’t read this much since college,” Rondo joked.

It’s just the beginning, of course. Rondo is injured and though he sounded positive about his return, it could be another month or longer before he realistically begins playing — and longer, yet, before he is 100 percent. Rondo and Stevens are easing into this new relationship.

Slowly, Rondo acknowledged.

“It’s going to be a process,” he said. “It’s his first season. Everybody is new. We don’t make excuses, we are going to try to go out and get the job done.”