After 'bulls***' benching, Rajon Rondo is -- for now, at least -- back with the Bulls

Ball Don't Lie
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4149/" data-ylk="slk:Rajon Rondo">Rajon Rondo</a> took the floor for the Bulls on Monday for the first time in 2017. (Getty Images)
Rajon Rondo took the floor for the Bulls on Monday for the first time in 2017. (Getty Images)

With stars Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade ruled out for Tuesday night, Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg reached all the way to the end of his bench to dust off veteran point guard Rajon Rondo — a Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision for the last five games, not even getting off the bench for his promotional bobblehead night on Monday — for duty as the shorthanded Bulls’ sixth man against the Washington Wizards. And the point guard was feeling talkative about it.

Wade was in line for scheduled rest on Tuesday, and both Butler and forward Nikola Mirotic were sidelined for the Washington game due to illness. So Hoiberg turned to Rondo, who hadn’t seen game action since getting yanked in the second quarter of a Dec. 30, 2016, loss to the Indiana Pacers, for some playmaking spark against the Wizards, ending a five-game benching about which the veteran ball-handler had plenty to say to reporters before the game. From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

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[…] though [Rondo] spoke in calm, measured tones and even injected humor throughout his 11-minute session with reporters, he emphasized he has had little communication with coach Fred Hoiberg.

“I got a slight explanation from another guy on the staff. A guy told me that he was saving me from myself,” Rondo said. “I don’t want to say any names. But that’s what the explanation was. In Cleveland, they told me I had a negative 20 (plus-minus rating) in Indiana at halftime. I think that was part of the reason.”

Rondo’s response to that “slight explanation,” according to ESPN’s Nick Friedell:

“I thought it was bulls—,” he said. “‘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.”

Rondo, who signed a two-year contract with the Bulls over the summer, with only one year guaranteed, is averaging just 7.2 points a game. He has stated several times that he feels his role has been different than what he and the Bulls front office discussed when he signed over the summer.

“Depends on how you guys write it,” Rondo said. “But yeah, it’s different. When I signed here, why I wanted to come here, it’s a lot different than what I anticipated.”

Rondo came off the bench with 6:31 remaining in the first quarter, and he started his return off with a bang. He made three of his first four shots and ending the frame with six points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal to help stake the undermanned Bulls to a 36-26 lead over the Wizards after 12 minutes, and an 18-point advantage three minutes into the second quarter.

Both Rondo and the Bulls would slow down, though, as the Wizards wrested away control of the proceedings with a 32-16 third quarter and would go on to a 101-99 win on the strength of a game-winning jumper with 5.9 seconds remaining by All-Star point guard John Wall:

Rondo finished with 12 points on 6-for-13 shooting, six assists, four rebounds, three steals and two turnovers in 27-plus minutes.


Despite the colorful diction in detailing his response to the staffer’s explanation — an explanation that, for what it’s worth, Hoiberg said after the game he’d never heard offered — Rondo reportedly seemed more bemused than angry when chatting with reporters about his shelving. His five-game siesta came three weeks after the Bulls handed him a one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team” stemming from a heated exchange with Bulls assistant Jim Boylen on the sideline during a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

As Rondo said Tuesday, this is not how he envisioned things playing out when he agreed to terms on a two-year, $27 million deal to join the Bulls in free agency in July, hoping for a return to relevance after a dysfunctional (in more ways than one) lone season with the Sacramento Kings. But Chicago had stumbled to a sub-.500 record after that Dec. 30 loss to the Pacers, ranking in the middle of the NBA pack in offensive efficiency overall and having been outscored on the season with Rondo on the court.

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Moreover, the Bulls had thrived when their other “Alphas” took the floor (and controlled the ball) without Rondo in the mix. At the time of Rondo’s benching, Chicago had outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Wade played without Rondo, by seven points per 100 possessions when Butler played without Rondo, and by a whopping 10.6 points per 100 possessions when Butler and Wade played without Rondo, according to NBAwowy.com.

The numbers lent credence to the concerns many raised when the Bulls imported Rondo and Wade to play next to Butler — that adding a pair of poor perimeter shooters who needed the ball in their hands would clog up the Bulls’ floor spacing and reduce their offensive punch, and that leaning hard on backcourt players who had seen better days defensively would increase both dribble penetration by opponents and the burden borne by interior defenders like Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson.

With Rondo shooting 37 percent from the field and the Bulls giving up four more nearly four more points-per-100 with Rondo on the floor than when he was off it, Hoiberg decided to discover whether any of his young options — former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, second-year point man Jerian Grant, rookie Denzel Valentine — might be able to better fortify the defense and add more shooting/cutting/playmaking spice while providing lower-usage partners for Butler and Wade. The results have been mixed.

While Carter-Williams and Grant combined to average 17 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game over the five no-Rondo outings, but Chicago still got outscored by nearly three points-per-100 since the switch. They went 3-2, though, thanks largely to Butler getting superhuman … which, it’s worth noting, became more possible as he was able to handle the ball more frequently in better-spaced half-court settings, owing partly to the jettisoning of Rondo.

By all accounts, Rondo handled his demotion professionally, saying he’d prefer to be traded somewhere where he’d be able to play a larger role but not making a particularly large stink about it. (He told reporters Tuesday that he’d been “staying in shape by playing pickup games at Irving Middle School in Maywood, Ill.,” as he awaited his chance.) After a return engagement that did not prove definitively that he merited either a trip back to the bench or a longer look at major minutes, and that came in a context where the primary concerns related to his play — whether he can be effective when he has to share the floor and ball with the Bulls’ two stars, and whether Chicago can be the best version of itself with him on the court — it ought to be very interesting to see how Hoiberg handles the Rondo question when Wade and Butler are back in the fold.

For now, at least, it looks like we haven’t seen the last of him …



… until/unless the Bulls once again feel that Rajon needs to be saved from himself, that is.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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