Rajon Rondo will miss Monday night’s meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers, after the Chicago Bulls suspended their starting point guard for one game for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t especially interested in shedding any light on the specific nature of that “detrimental conduct” when he met with reporters on Monday:
Fred Hoiberg said he and Rondo had a meeting yesterday. He wouldn't get into details on what happened.
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) December 5, 2016
That didn’t mean light wouldn’t be shed, though:
Told that Rondo snapped at coaching staff and has already apologized to coaches, teammates. Attended team function on Sunday.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 5, 2016
Rajon Rondo — suspended for tonight's game — had a "heated exchange" with a Bulls assistant in Mavericks loss, sources tell @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) December 5, 2016
Rondo apologized to the coach and accepted responsibility in the aftermath of Bulls suspension, league sources tell @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) December 5, 2016
One source told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that “Rondo threw a towel in the direction of [assistant coach Jim] Boylen during the game, although that couldn’t be confirmed by a second source.” The Phoenix Suns last year suspended power forward Markieff Morris for two games for throwing a towel at head coach Jeff Hornacek.
Rondo did appear at a team function on Sunday, joining his teammates and Bulls officials in handing out Christmas gifts to hundreds of local children at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
The suspension comes just 19 games into Rondo’s first season in Chicago, a span that has seen the 30-year-old triggerman alternate productive games with quiet outings.
Rondo is averaging 8.2 points, 7.2 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 30.5 minutes per game, but is shooting a career-low 39.1 percent from the field, and just followed up his best game of the season — a 15-point, 12-assist, 11-rebound triple-double in Friday’s win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — with perhaps his worst, managing just two points, two assists, two rebounds and five turnovers in 24 minutes in a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
After signing Rondo and Dwyane Wade in free agency this summer to join incumbent All-Star Jimmy Butler, many expected the Bulls to struggle to generate consistently fluid and efficient offense with an attack predicated on three players who are most effective with the ball in their hands and who hadn’t shown much capacity to be dangerous as spot-up shooting threats. For the most part, though, the Bulls have flourished when Wade and Butler share the floor, outscoring opponents by nearly nine points per 100 possessions — which would be the fourth-best mark in the NBA over the course of the season — and scoring at a rate that would fall just outside the league’s top five in offensive efficiency.
Things get a bit more complicated when you introduce Rondo into the mix. When Wade and Butler have shared the floor without Rondo, Chicago has soared, torching the competition by nearly 24 points-per-100, according to NBAwowy.com. Your standard small-sample-size caveats apply — such lineups have only played 86 minutes thus far, and Bulls lineups featuring the “Three Alphas” have fared well enough, outscoring opponents by 5.3 points-per-100 — but that kind of discrepancy, especially given Rondo’s continuing shooting woes and his clear decline as an on-ball defender, is the kind of thing that raises eyebrows and makes observers wonder how much, or even whether, Rondo makes the Bulls better on the court right now.
In spite of his uneven start to the season, Rondo recently received praise from Bulls power forward Taj Gibson for his professionalism and commitment to building his teammates up, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
“He’s just a great teammate,” Taj Gibson said of Rondo. “I know he got a lot of criticism before the year. But he’s always inspiring. He’s in the huddle and if you’re not feeling right, he’s always going to have your back no matter what. That’s the type of player I want to play with forever.”
The reported conflict with coaches came during the Bulls’ visit to Dallas, where Rondo spent a half-season with the Mavs two years back — a mostly disastrous stint that saw him benched and suspended following an on-the-bench shouting match with head coach Rick Carlisle and ended with Rondo put on ice with an alleged back injury during a postseason series for which his teammates later decided Rajon didn’t deserve a playoff share.
Ahead of Saturday’s matchup in Texas, some 19 months removed from their last clashes — a period that saw Rondo rebuild his stat-producing value in (quelle surprise!) another dramatic season in Sacramento during which he received a one-game suspension for leveling a homophobic slur at referee Bill Kennedy, who later revealed he is gay — player and coach each sung one another’s praises.
“He’s a champion,” Rondo said. “You can’t take that from me. You can’t take that from him. It just didn’t work out, that two champions couldn’t figure it out.
“I have a lot of respect for Rick. Just because things don’t go well doesn’t mean you hate a person or that the media perception is right. Rick and I had a good relationship in the beginning. We tried to work it out. I worked with him every day on my shot. We watched film together. Not every marriage works. It was a learning process.”
And then, Rick:
“I’ve recommended Rondo to a couple of teams that have called me about him the last couple of years,” Carlisle said. “As a competitor, you’re not going to find a guy better or more resourceful. He really has adjusted his game constantly over the years. It didn’t work out here for various reasons. It was just not a good fit. I wished him well when he left.”
The famously hands-on Carlisle, who has long preferred to call his team’s plays from the sideline rather than ceding control of his offense to his point guard, even called Hoiberg (whom he coached as an assistant with the Indiana Pacers in the late 1990s) this summer to say he believed the two would work well together, according to Johnson:
“He came to me and said he likes his point guard to run the show,” Rondo said. “Every situation is different. Fred does have more of a laid-back personality. He doesn’t micromanage as much as some coaches do in the league. For me, that’s big.
“But you can’t come in right away and run the show. Everything takes time. [The team is] making progress. I have no complaints. […] What’s to complain about?”
Monday’s reporting suggests that everything’s cool after this particular incident. If it isn’t, though — if this is the first fracture in the relationship between Rondo and Hoiberg, which many saw coming sooner rather than later when they joined forces this summer, and if his teammates continue rallying to his cause …
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) December 5, 2016
… then we might be about to find out.
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