He clashes with teammates. He bumps referees, when he’s not tossing basketballs at them. He stares icily at reporters who ask him questions he doesn’t appreciate.
And despite all that has happened, he still very much wants to be here.
Rajon Rondo is many things, not all of them things that everyone likes. But this much has to be said for the Celtics’ All-Star point guard: He does not bail out.
When he tore his ACL in an overtime game against the Hawks, he played through the discomfort and shrugged it off as a strained hamstring. When he dislocated his elbow in a 2011 playoff game, he returned to lead the Celtics to their only win of the series against the Miami Heat. He’s different, and as the only NBA home he’s ever known is crumbling around him, he seems to be responding differently than many players do.
Rondo has not asked out of Boston, publicly or privately, by all indications. Even after his big brothers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, were shipped out of town on draft night, there are no reports of the mercurial point guard storming into the Celtics’ front offices and demanding a trade. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may or may not be fully honest when he says he does not plan to trade Rondo this offseason, but it seems fairly certain that Rondo is not angling for such a trade to occur.
And that complicates matters even more greatly for the Celtics, who already have a considerably challenging rebuild ahead of them. Rondo, 27, is an elite point guard in his prime on a reasonable contract. Trading him could bring back the single most significant haul in the Celtics’ effort to collect assets in the form of draft picks and young players. It could make the flotsam and jetsam the Celtics received from the Clippers and Nets look like, well, flotsam and jetsam.
Still, he wants to be here.
As subjective — and possibly fleeting — as that sentiment may be, it is not one the Celtics should just dismiss. This is an era of ephemeral loyalties. When the going gets tough, a lot of stars get going — out of town. LeBron James took Cleveland to an NBA Finals and bolted at the first opportunity. Chris Bosh was surrounded by a promising core in Toronto and still gave in to the lure of South Beach. Chris Paul whined his way out of New Orleans. Even Boston’s beloved Garnett only joined the Celtics after he became tired of the Timberwolves’ persistent nonsense.
Yet with an obviously difficult era ahead for the Celtics, Rondo has not made a peep about wanting to leave. Perhaps that will change if Ainge continues to shuffle the roster or once Rondo sees his new squad in action in training camp. But for now it is a quality the makes Rondo that much more valuable to the Celtics, who will have to operate on good will and resolve for the near future, because it is all they are likely to have for the next few years.
Some might say Rondo has “loyalty.” That’s not quite the right word. While Tommy from Southie might harp on a player’s loyalty to da Celts, the fact is most players didn’t grow up bleeding green and muscling through the crowd at North Station just to catch a glimpse of the parquet floor. Rondo’s desire to remain a Celtic could have as much to do with his own selfish desire to be “the man” for the first time in his life, rather than an old-fashioned sense of loyalty to the franchise.
Whatever anyone calls it, though, Rondo is not eyeing the exit. Not even his former coach can say that now. Love him or hate him, Rondo does not yet sound like someone who wants to jump ship. That at least counts for something.