On July 3, 2016, the Chicago Bulls signed free agent point guard Rajon Rondo to a two year deal worth about $28 million dollars. They hoped that he would be the perfect point guard to run the up-tempo offense desired by Hoiberg, in which Rondo would rack up the assists dishing it to Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler. His numbers were disappointing for the first few months, and on Dec. 30 against the Indiana Pacers, he was absent from the entire second half. He was then benched until he came in against the Wizards on Tuesday.
Despite his absence from the court, he certainly wasn’t absent from the spotlight. On Tuesday, Rondo expressed his frustrations to reporters with the Bulls decision to bench him.
Rondo remarked that he had received little communication from the coaching staff and none from Hoiberg about the benching. Of what he was told, Rondo did not seem to appreciate.
“I got a slight explanation from another guy on the staff. A guy told me that he was saving me from myself,” Rondo said.
His frustrations are somewhat understandable, considering his supposed cemented role as a starting point guard, but with THAT vague line as his only explanation, it’s very easy to get what Rondo had to say next.
“I thought it was (expletive). Save me from myself. I never heard that before in my life. But I guess he was trying to do the best thing for me.”
Despite the swearing, the way he ended that thought was similar to his attitude throughout the interview- that although he was confused with the decision, he was respectful of it and who made it.
Yet Rondo certainly hasn’t been wallowing in his despair. Reports claim that the University of Kentucky graduate returned to school to work on his game. No, not to Kentucky, however. Instead, he’s been practicing extra at Irving Middle School in the western suburb of Maywood. While Bulls fans have a right to be displeased with his play, they certainly can’t be bothered by his work ethic.
In the interview, Rondo talked about his mindset moving forward.
“I know a little bit of what’s going on, but it’s out of my control really, as far as what they have going on,” Rondo said. “So I’m going to have to play better.”
As for Hoiberg, what led him to make this decision, and why the extreme action of no playing time at all? Here’s what he had to say in December, when the replacement happened.
“Not that Rajon is the guy who is strictly responsible for the slow starts,” Hoiberg said. “It’s a collective effort obviously. We’re just going to see if Michael (Carter-Williams) can inject some energy and change the flow of our team with that starting lineup.”
It seems that the no playing-time condemnation was just a temporary one to give Carter-Williams and backup Jerian Grant more action, and to see if it would lead to more overall offensive success. After all, Rondo’s numbers were down to 7.4 PPG, from his career average 10.8, and 7.1 assists from his career average 8.6, so I think that Hoiberg is justified in the move. However, it does make many things unclear.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
For now, Michael Carter-Williams is the rightful starting point guard, but it’s not like he’s turned into a shining star. He’s averaged just over 10 PPG since Rondo was benched, but his assists and rebounds are significantly worse than what Rondo’s averages were.
However, Rondo’s season averages aren’t the best thing to go by either, since it was more the recent contests that Hoiberg benched him for. In the five games leading up to the one where he was benched, he averaged just over four points. The assists and rebounds numbers were still pretty good, though.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to tell whether Carter-Williams’s scoring advantage outweighs his deficit in assists and rebounds. In the six games since his placement into the starting lineup, the Bulls have gone 3-3, albeit with three of those (all three loses) missing a healthy Jimmy Butler. That’s pretty much on track with the record the Bulls had when Rondo had the reigns, so Hoiberg has a tough decision as to which PG leads to more success.
Perhaps the more meaningful issue is the social and mental impact it has on the Bulls. While both have played serviceable basketball, it seems pretty clear that Rondo and Hoiberg aren’t agreeing on very much. Though it’s not tangible, we all know how important team chemistry is, and if one player is at odds with your leader, it’s going to drag you down.
This is all worsened by Taj Gibson‘s remark that, in his opinion, the team is better off with Rondo.
“We’re a much better team with him on the court.”
By going public with his thoughts, it just complicates the situation, because now Hoiberg is displeasing at least two players if Rondo isn’t on the court often.
The best case scenario is that either Rondo shines as the sixth man, or regains the starting spot, and won’t have issues with Hoiberg anymore. The worst case scenario is that neither Rondo nor Carter-Williams improves, and Rondo can not accept his new role, which may lead to a trade that the Bulls won’t want to have to make, or just general negativity in the team atmosphere.
What is most likely to happen?
In my opinion, I think Rondo recaptures the starting spot. Off the bench against the Wizards on Tuesday, he finished with 12 points, six assists, and four rebounds, all solid numbers. It’s very possible that the benching has lit a fire under Rondo, and if he puts up numbers like that, MCW can’t compete. While I don’t see a huge comeback for Rondo, I think he can get back to the serviceable play that he exhibited at the beginning of the season. He’s certainly giving it his all, as the kids at Irving Middle School would attest to.
In the long run though, the frustration that Rondo expressed can not be erased. As Rondo ages, it’s likely his numbers will slowly decline, and the Bulls need a veteran like him to accept that. To avoid such a situation, I think that the Bulls trade Rondo at the end of the season for an extra first or second-round draft pick. Since it doesn’t appear that they’ll be making a deep playoff run, there’s no use in keeping the relatively expensive point guard.
However, that’s all prediction, and with around half the season to go, Rondo has a lot of minutes left to force the Bulls to go a different route, whether for good, or for bad.