Rajon Rondo has plenty to prove

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics open the 2014-15 season on Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, and we're more than 83 percent certain that Rajon Rondo will be on the floor.

Ever since Rondo and the Celtics hinted that there was even a possibility that Rondo would be able to return from a broken hand in time for opening night, we've been convinced he'll be out there. After all, this is the same guy that missed little more than a TV timeout while returning from a dislocated elbow in the 2011 playoffs and played 12 minutes on a torn ACL in 2013.

So less than five weeks after undergoing a procedure to repair a fractured metacarpal bone, we expect Rondo will be out there Wednesday driving right at old friend Kevin Garnett while fully aware a setback is one hard tumble away. It's going to take more than that to delay the start of what could be Rondo's redemption tour.

Rondo has an awful lot of motivation this season, but none greater than a desire to reestablish himself among the elite players in the league. Limited to 68 games over the past two seasons while working his way back from an ACL tear, it seems that the rest of the league has forgotten about the spunky point guard with a championship ring. This, even more than his looming $100 million-plus payday, is what will drive Rondo this season.

An example: ESPN Insider unveiled a piece this week headlined, "NBA's Best Point Guard?" in which a fictional front office staff -- though one that included former NBA coach George Karl -- debated the merits of players who might fit under that title. Despite checking in at nearly 2,000 words, the article did not include a single mention of Rondo's name, although it did include Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has repeated many times that he expects Rondo to have the best season of his NBA career. He dismissed the idea that Rondo's status as a potential unrestricted free agent is driving him -- Rondo almost certainly is going to command maximum money regardless of how this season plays out -- but Ainge is certain that the way Rondo has faded from the national spotlight will drive the 28-year-old point guard.

"I can't wait to see him play. He just has a lot to prove," Ainge said. "I just see it in him. He's really dying to get out there and play. I'm excited for him."

Ainge is excited for his team as well. There's certainly a trickle-down effect to be had for the young Celtics if Rondo can restore himself as an All-Star-caliber point guard. It's easy to forget now, but there was a time when Rondo's name cropped up in MVP chatter, albeit never quite to the level of the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul.

But maybe we need a history lesson on what Rondo is capable of when he's fully healthy and fully engaged. That version of Rondo certainly could help the Celtics exceed the low expectations many have for the team. Most pundits peg the Celtics for marginal improvement after last season's 25-win campaign. A national TV darling during the Big Three era, the Celtics will barely see the bright lights that have brought out Rondo's best in past seasons.

And that can't possibly sit well with him. Rondo will be hellbent on re-establishing himself and the Celtics.

Ainge likes to note that Rondo is in the prime of his career, maybe even still improving, but his injuries have prevented us from seeing that development in recent seasons. Now, further removed from the ACL injury, Rondo may finally have a chance to remind us what he's capable of.

There's a notion that because Boston is in rebuilding mode that the team might be more inclined to trade Rondo this season. It ignores the fact that 1. it's unlikely a team will meet Ainge's asking price, and 2. the point guard could be the biggest key in Boston quickly navigating its transition process.

In the modern NBA, it's hard to build without stars. If the Celtics ship out Rondo, it doesn't matter how promising their young core is or how many future drafts picks they have. Stars are going to go where there's money and a chance to win.

But having the pre-injury Rondo on the floor with an improving young core and a motivated coach in Brad Stevens could help Boston make the advancements that ensure the team is moving in the right direction. The team could then attempt to sign Rondo to a long-term extension this summer while adding an established sidekick -- whether via free agency or using assets in a trade -- and suddenly a return to contender status might not seem so far-fetched.

And nothing would motivate Rondo more than being back in the spotlight again.