BOSTON — When it comes to Rajon Rondo, you either love him or hate him. Which is why the reports of him demanding a trade, while those close to him indicate no such conversation ever took place, are only fitting.
Rondo is a polarizing, maddeningly talented point guard with a high basketball I.Q. who's sometimes too smart for his own good. He's a crossover-dribbling, ankle-breaking embodiment of the yin-yang theory.
That said, the idea that he would demand a trade at this point is a bit of a head-scratcher. Why now, on the eve of training camp, rather than at the start of the summer, when teams had money to spend and would have been more eager to get something done?
Multiple league sources have repeatedly said that Rondo wants to start the season in Boston and see where things go from there. A similar sentiment has trickled out of Celtics camp, as well.
Rondo is hopeful that the team Danny Ainge is assembling around him is better than most anticipate, that they can be this season's feel-good story not only in the East but throughout the NBA.
When you look back at teams that have that level of unexpected success, there's always a player or two who emerges from the shadows to take center stage.
And when those types of teams have an established head of the snake like Rondo, that player tends to elevate his game as well.
Which brings us back to the four-time All-Star's demand/no demand of a trade.
Of the players who have been rumored to want out in recent years, players who were looking to avoid playing for a struggling team (yup, talkin' about you, Kevin Love), few have had as little leverage as Rondo has at this point.
It has little to do with the ACL injury he had in 2013, or the reported run-ins with former coach Doc Rivers.
It has more to do with the circumstances throughout the league and with the Celtics roster.
A league executive who has inquired about Rondo's availability in the past pointed out on Sunday that any comparison between Rondo's current plight and that of K-Love would be "short-sighted and just flat-out wrong."
"Minnesota had to trade Kevin Love because they had [nobody] remotely close to [his talent level] now, or going forward, on the roster," the source said. "When Boston drafted Marcus Smart, that took away a lot of leverage Rondo might have had in demanding a trade. I think both the Celtics and Rondo's people understand that, which is why all this talk about him demanding a trade makes no sense."
And when you look at the elite teams in the NBA -- like defending NBA champion San Antonio (Tony Parker) or Cleveland (Kyrie Irving) or Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook) or the Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul) -- they all have point guards who, at the very least, are as good as Rondo.
Multiple league and team sources agree the most likely scenario has Rondo beginning the season in Boston. Then, depending on how the team does, both sides will mutually agree to either ride it out or part ways sooner rather than later.
While the Celtics have said publicly their desire is to keep Rondo in the fold long-term, it hasn't stopped them from remaining open to the idea of moving him for the right deal.
And that deal is nowhere close to materializing, in large part because teams want to see Rondo play without limitations.
He returned to play in 30 games last season following a torn ACL injury in 2013, but he was just a shell of the player he was prior to the injury.
Teams, including the Celtics, want to see how he handles back-to-back games, which he didn't play in at all last season.
Can he carry over the strides he made last season in shooting the ball?
Defensively, he was beat off the dribble far too often last season. Was that rust from the long lay-off, or is he starting to lose a step or two with time or because of the injury?
These are just some of the questions that only Rondo's play can truly answer.
And in doing so, he would help establish more clarity in terms of his value in the market and in his future, whether it's in Boston or elsewhere.