By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – The wait is over. The return is upon us.

Rajon Rondo will be back in action Friday night, nearly a year after he tore his right ACL. The Celtics have undergone quite the makeover since that second half in Atlanta when he went down with the scary injury. There is a new coach in place, a couple of Celtics legends have left the building, and the deconstruction of the 2013-14 Celtics roster has already started to take shape, all coming while Rondo has been rehabilitating from his injury.

Incredibly, Rondo will only have four teammates remaining on the roster tonight that were still on the team last season. Boston’s one All-Star point guard is the only connection this current roster has to the Big Three era and a memorable 2008 championship run.

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His return tonight will be the start of an eventful next ten days at the TD Garden, capped by the returns of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to face off with Rondo and company next Sunday, in what will be an emotional homecoming.

For now though, the microscope is on Rondo, who is expected to be limited to just 18-20 minutes tonight in his debut. Brad Stevens did his best before his point guard’s return to temper expectations.

“I think it’s going to be hard for him to have a minutes restriction. There might be some wind [problems] that comes along with that, but he’s going to want to play once he’s out there. That’s the way it works. We’ll listen to all of the medical personnel to make sure that we’re doing this right. I look at this as part of his rehab.”

Stevens continued: “I don’t think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo. This is part of this process of getting back to full-go, and now the next step is to play a maximum number of minutes in a game.”

Danny Ainge expects fans to be well aware of Rondo’s limitations heading into tonight.

“Fans are pretty smart,” Ainge said. “They know [Rondo] hasn’t played basketball for a year, and he’s just been practicing. I’m optimistic that Rondo will be pretty good when he comes back.”

Ainge also knows that it will still be an uphill climb even once Rondo is on the floor, but it is one he knows the veteran guard will overcome.

“I’ve seen some pretty mentally tough guys that have still had to overcome a little bit when they came back from ACL [tears], but he is tough. I anticipate him coming back faster than any of us think. If anything, the guy is a great competitor and he has a lot of pride and he’s not going to admit to being tired and hurt and mentally challenged getting back to this. He’s a guy that I think will fight through the adversity,” Ainge said.

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Rondo’s old and new teammates also appear to be equally excited to see him in action in the midst of a stretch where they have dropped 12 of their last 14 games.

“It will be great to have him back,” Gerald Wallace explained. “We’ve been playing together in practice, his intensity and enthusiasm towards the game is something I’ve been looking forward to playing with, so we will welcome him back with open arms,”

Avery Bradley has been Rondo’s running mate in the backcourt for a couple of seasons now and has high expectations for the point guard despite his long layoff.

“I know that when he does come back,” Bradley continued, “I don’t feel like there will be any drop off. He’s not only a professional; he’s a very good player. He knows what he can and can’t do. I’m very excited for him.”

For a team struggling on the offensive end, Rondo’s presence, even for only 18-20 minutes a game at first could have a major impact.

“Just the fact he’ll open up the transition more,” Wallace said of the Rondo effect. “He’ll cause more havoc in the pick-and-roll. He’s able to find open guys. He’ll make everyone’s else games a lot easier offensively.”

Bradley echoed Wallace’s thoughts.

“When he does come back, he’s going to make it easier on everybody,” Bradley declared.

With Boston’s season at a crossroads and a potential postseason berth slipping away, Rondo’s return couldn’t have come at a better time.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.


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