WALTHAM, Mass. — Dating to the breakup of the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen championship team in Boston, this season is the one that has been circled for the Celtics. So far, they haven’t just stumbled out of the gate, they’ve stumbled on their way to the gate.

The key for the Celtics’ future is having point guard Rajon Rondo re-assert himself as the league’s best pure playmaker. But as Rondo met the media at the Celtics’ practice facility before the start of training camp, he was wearing a sling to steady the broken left hand he suffered last week. And he said that while the official timetable has been a six-to-eight-week absence, he was told he could miss up to 10 weeks.

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Oof.

But the year is no less important for Rondo and the Celtics, even if it gets under way in the shadow of injury for the second straight season (Rondo was recovering from ACL surgery to start last year). And for Rondo, who is a free agent next summer, his approach to his future has not wavered: Despite unfounded rumors that he had demanded a trade and persistent talk that he will be moved, he sees himself sticking with the Celtics for his next contract.

“The fans, the people here, they make me want to stay,” Rondo said. “The organization has been great. I can’t say enough about Danny (Ainge) and Wyc (Grousbeck, one of the team’s owners). But when I walk down the street, fans are embracing me. From Day 1, when we won that championship, people don’t just appreciate us winning, it’s more of a ‘Thank you.’ It’s love for the game. These people here know the game. You can’t fool them. They know when you’re BS-ing them around, they know when you are not playing as hard as you can. The love I get here is kind of overwhelming in Boston. Why would I not want to stay here?”

That’s what has long been misunderstood about Rondo. He can be prickly and stubborn and hot-headed — that’s well-documented. But he has never wavered in his desire to take on a leadership role and pull the post-Big Three Celtics back into contention. He’s long had a chip on his shoulder about being perceived as the fourth wheel in the Celtics’ two Finals runs and wants to leave his own legacy with the team.

As for the trade rumors, he said he has learned to accept that as part of the business.

“I think each year, my name gets bigger and bigger in trade rumors,” Rondo said. “Danny keeps a pretty good communication line with me as far as everything that’s going on. Reports may come out here and there but I am pretty much just focused on living my life during the summer. I don’t watch any TV at all, I haven’t talked to you guys in a while. So the reports come out and as long as Danny is talking to me, he uses his phone all the time, and he is straightforward with me. I am fine with the rumors. They’ve been something my entire career. It’s something that, maybe I negotiate a no-trade clause or something like that, to keep my name out of the trade rumors.”

All of that is not to say the Celtics won’t entertain offers for Rondo later in the year. But coming in, the idea is to get Rondo healthy and have him return to his All-Star level. Along the way, the Celtics need some combination of young players — guys like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, new center Tyler Zeller, rookies Marcus Smart and James Young — to take strides and bolster their trade value. Right now, outside of Rondo, there is not much trade value to be found on Boston’s roster.

But if there can be progress with those players, and perhaps decent performances from signees like Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner, then the Celtics will have something to offer besides the trove of future first-round picks they’ve hoarded.

They need that because the ultimate goal here is to keep Rondo and add a star to play with him. And draft picks are not going to be enough to land a truly big-time Rondo partner. When Boston attempted to land Kevin Love from Minnesota, the talks did not get very far because the Timberwolves wanted young players who could contribute immediately, not just picks.

That’s where a healthy, engaged Rondo can make a big difference — if he can make those around him better, he will help add to their value which will make them easier to move if a trade possibility opens. Or, if the Celtics need to wait it out until the free-agent market gets rolling next summer, then a young, improving team anchored by Rondo and led by promising second-year coach Brad Stevens will allow Ainge to make a much more appealing pitch to free agents.

The notion that Rondo wants out of Boston, though, is based mostly on speculation that he is not on board with a rebuilding program. That’s never been true. He knows exactly where the Celtics are in terms of the league hierarchy.

“I’m pretty smart,” he said. “I know this is not a championship team. But we are going to go out there every night and fight hard. If we continue to do the little things and believe in each other and believe in Brad Stevens, we will surprise a lot of people. I have complete trust in Danny.”

Rondo then referenced 2006-07, his rookie year, in which the Celtics won 24 games and endured an 18-game losing streak. That summer, Ainge pulled in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and the Celtics went on to a championship.

They’re not as bad off this year as they were at that point. But they’re looking to make the same kind of turnaround, and are aiming to do it with Rondo in the fold and a star player (or two) added to round out the lineup.

Thanks to the injury, the year hasn’t gotten off to the ideal start. But for both Rondo and the Ce

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ltics, the goal of bringing Boston back into contention remains the same.