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Little relief for Rondo after deadline

LOS ANGELES -- A day after the league's trade deadline passed, sending a pesky plume of uncertainty packing for the eighth consecutive winter, not even the sunny Los Angeles weather could brighten the outlook of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo when asked if it was nice to have that cloud lifted.

"I don't know," shrugged Rondo. "Everybody is different. I'm under contact with the Celtics and that's who I play for."

Very few things seem to bother the ultra-confident Rondo, but two things most certainly do: losing and trade rumors. Both have dogged him this season, though he invited neither.

Before the two most decorated franchises in NBA history met with the worst combined winning percentage in Celtics-Lakers rivalry history, Rondo sat on the baseline at Staples Center on Friday morning and reflected on what he called "annoying" trade rumors that swirled before the deadline.

At his feet sat an iPhone, one that likely endured a heightened workout 24 hours earlier, and a pair of custom ANTA brand sandals. The black slip-ons feature a green silhouetted logo of Rondo, a surprisingly recognizable Jordan-esque blob atop his not-for-purchase footwear.

Those sandals remind us that Rondo is no stranger to free agency. Over the summer, he left Nike to sign with ANTA, the brand his good buddy Kevin Garnett adopted at the start of the decade. And it's free agency that might eventually help Rondo rid himself of that pesky pall.

After this season, Rondo will have the necessary eligibility -- eight years in the league, four with one team -- to qualify for a rare no-trade clause. That power to dictate the team he plays for could be a key negotiating item when he inks his next deal, something that could go a long way toward giving him his much-desired peace of mind.

Right now, that does not exist for Rondo. The trade rumors that disappeared Thursday will come roaring back in June. The same thing will happen during the 2014-15 season. All Rondo got with Thursday's deadline passing is a three-month respite from the constant speculation.

Which might explain why Rondo wasn't celebrating the moment. After downplaying the presence of those rumors all week, it was refreshing to see him admit that he was actually irked by the chatter.

Unfortunately for Rondo, those whispers aren't going anywhere until at least the summer of 2015.

The Celtics approached Rondo about a contract extension earlier this season, but it made little sense for either side. Those talks could resume this offseason, but Rondo has said he's intrigued by the prospects of unrestricted free agency. Waiting until next summer could afford him not only a bigger payday, but also that no-trade possibility (something that cannot be included in an extension).

Make no mistake, Rondo has learned to endure the trade rumors. He joked before the All-Star break that he'd steer clear of TV during the league's midseason vacation. By Monday, however, as the team reconvened in Phoenix, his name had cropped up in a hail storm of deadline rumors.

Every hour a new team emerged with reported interest. Rondo soon became one of the biggest storylines of a deadline that ultimately was a dud.

The Knicks, Kings, Raptors and the Rockets all drew headlines for their reported lusting over Rondo, even as Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge downplayed all the rumors, suggesting there was nothing substantial to any of them.

In Phoenix before the team's practice Tuesday, Rondo admitted this was likely the "most trade talk" he had endured in his career and suggested it had the most "seriousness." Wednesday's game against the Suns brought a welcome reprieve from the trade chatter.

On the team's flight to Los Angeles after Wednesday's game, as the deadline neared, Rondo joined his teammates in a spirited debate about the greatest players of all-time, a conversation that the ultra-competitive Rondo probably wouldn't mind injecting himself into at some point. That's probably why the trade chatter bothers him so much, wondering why the Celtics would even entertain the idea of deals for a player of his stature.

Rondo is a four-time All-Star with a championship ring. He's one of the league's elite players at his position and, as he turns 28 on Saturday, he believes he's entering the prime of his career. Add in a very favorable contract at the moment and it's understandable why teams are interested in his services.

And yet that doesn't make the whispers any easier to endure. On Thursday morning, Rondo got away from basketball for a bit with a business meeting at the team's hotel. It's things like his ANTA deal that provide a necessary distraction to the trade noise. His meeting lasted until the Celtics met for film right before the deadline buzzer and that's where Brad Stevens informed his Twitter-refreshing players that he didn't expect any deals to happen.

After the deadline passed, a smiling Rondo passed through the lobby of the team's swank Beverly Hills hotel, but declined to talk to reporters. He was under no obligation to chat with no official team activity that day, and he was taking full advantage of avoiding the trade topic.

Despite downplaying the trade chatter throughout the week, he let his guard down ever so slightly on Friday when asked if there were any hard feelings from all the rumors.

"It gets annoying at times," admitted Rondo. "It's been like that the last eight years, though. It's what I do for a living. It's not who I am. I play basketball for a living, for the time being. I'll be 28 [Saturday]. I have a long life to live. I have a lot of things going on outside of basketball for me right now and it's part of what happens when you're an NBA player."

Even as the trade chatter dissipates, Rondo's future remains a front-burner topic in Boston. Ainge has insisted at every turn that Rondo is a player the team can build with, but it remains to be seen whether the team is willing to spend the star money he'll command. As an unrestricted free agent, his price tag could soar.

For his part, Rondo has said that, despite being intrigued by free agency, he sees a long-term future in Boston. The Celtics bestowed the captain's crest on him upon his return last month and believe he can help lead this team back to prominence.

Part of keeping Rondo around could hinge on a return to contender status. And the Celtics certainly don't want to waste the best years of Rondo's career. Putting elite talent next to him is a primary goal and the Celtics believe they can do it with the assets they've stockpiled. Some good fortune from the ping-pong balls could aid that cause.

But like the rumors, that's out of Rondo's hands and he is doing his best to cope.

"You can't worry about stuff you can't control," said Rondo.

He does worry. But unlike now, in 15 months he might be better able to control both the losing and the rumors. Then late February won't be nearly as annoying.