Winter can be a cold time in Chicago, and Rajon Rondo is figuring that out first hand. First, it was Fred Hoiberg who was finding himself on the hot seat. Secondly, I argued that it should be Gar Forman and John Paxson on the hot seat. The most recent person to find himself on the hot seat in Chicago, however, is Rondo himself.
Rondo has seen a fall from grace since he was the facilitator for the potent and lethal Celtics offense that sported the likes of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Bouncing from the Celtics, Rondo went to Dallas to try and work his magic in Rick Carlisle’s system. After that had failed (and failed miserably), Rondo went to work in Sacramento, where his play picked up some as he was a dream for fantasy basketball owners, but not necessarily a dream fit in Sacramento. While it was no bad fit, it wasn’t what one might call a good fit either.
In the offseason, the Bulls recruited Rajon Rondo. Chicago was Rondo’s first stop in free agency and immediately bought into the culture that Chicago’s organization and the city as a whole had to offer while also thinking he could run Hoiberg’s schemed offense well. Some fans and analysts questioned the move while others thought that it would be a good fit.
Fast forward 34 games into this turbulent season for Chicago, and there is a lot of unrest between Rondo and the organization. After the Bulls lost to the Milwaukee Bucks to end 2016 on Saturday night, Rajon Rondo had things to say about him being benched for Michael Carter-Williams. (quotes via K.C. Johnson's tweets linked within the sentence)
He told me I've been looking slow the last five games. Hoiberg asks me all the time if I’m healthy. I respond the same: that this is the best I’ve ever felt at this part of the season … I disagree [about being slow], but that’s part of it. He’s the head coach. And we’re going to go with that.
Rondo is a ten-year veteran of the league who lead the entire NBA in assists as recently as last season. If he remains out of the rotation, after sitting out the entirety of the Bulls loss to Milwaukee, Rondo said he would “absolutely” ask to be traded from Chicago, thinking he has a home somewhere among the 29 other teams in the league.
The breakup between Chicago and Rondo seems all but inevitable. Rondo admitted that with the way the Bulls are playing currently, he’s not the best fit, saying that he’s at his best when the team can get stops and generate turnovers so he can operate on the fast break before the defense can get set. When the opposing defense gets set and has time to load up, Rondo admits that he is not at his best.
Hoiberg said that he met with Rondo before Saturday’s matchup against Milwaukee, stating that he was “very professional” about the entire situation and stated that he was proud of Rondo being a great teammate even on the bench during the Bulls recent rough patch.
While Rondo’s teammates like Jimmy Butler adamantly defend Rondo any time criticism comes up, it appears that Rondo’s time in Chicago is very limited. Signing Rondo to a two-year, $27.4 million deal, the Bulls will first try to look to trade Rondo if they cannot find a spot for him in the rotation, as that would be Rondo’s preference. Rondo may be unhappy about being benched, but he’s showing that at least with his current stint in Chicago, he’s more malleable than he was in the past and is putting in work to be a positive locker room influence, especially for the younger players on the roster, during this time of turmoil.
I'm going to continue to work ... And give these young guys as much advice as I can while I'm on the bench supporting them.
Despite what rumors and predetermined notions float around the league about Rajon Rondo, he is a fantastic teammate, at least here in Chicago. Barring one incident where he threw a towel at an assistant coach and received a one-game suspension because of it, he’s done a lot of work to prevent himself from becoming a distraction to the team.
Expectations for the Rondo situation are that head coach Fred Hoiberg and Rondo are going to put in some work behind the scenes to find a spot in the rotation for Rondo. Hoiberg expects Rondo to maintain the professionalism he has carried through this process so far throughout the rest of the ordeal. Meanwhile, Gar Forman and John Paxson are expected to gauge interest around the league for Rondo, potentially packaging him with a younger player and agreeing to eat most of his contract hit if needed to move him.
If Gar Forman and John Paxson don’t find a suitor for Rondo’s services where they can’t get a young guard or possible draft picks in return, Rondo is expected to accept whatever role in the rotation that Hoiberg deems suitable. If the situation takes an even bigger dip south, Forman and Paxson may pull the trigger on a trade where the return isn’t what they want.
If they don’t pull the trigger on a potential trade, the next option they would look into would be potentially waiving or buying out the rest of Rondo’s contract so he can become a free agent. For now, Rajon Rondo’s time in a Bulls uniform is safe. However, the clock is ticking in an ever-changing “what have you done for me lately” league. Big changes are coming in Chicago, after bustling out to a lousy 16-18 record. Some of these changes are not going to wait until the offseason to surface. The unraveling of the Bulls as we know them to be may very well be starting with Rajon Rondo.