Chicago Bulls stars Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler made big news on Wednesday night when they criticized their teammates’ effort following a dispiriting loss to the Atlanta Hawks that included a blown 10-point lead in the final three minutes. As our Kelly Dwyer wrote earlier Thursday, this latest kerfuffle continues the predictable dysfunction that has befallen the Bulls this season after they spent the summer attempting to construct a super-team from spare parts. Wade has essentially treated the club as a rebound relationship following his split with the Miami Heat, Butler alternates between serving as the face of the franchise and getting mentioned in trade rumors, and head coach Fred Hoiberg has proven unable to figure out a problem different than the one he was hired to solve.
As if the Bulls weren’t dealing with enough problems, disgruntled point guard Rajon Rondo added his voice to the Wade-Butler controversy on Thursday night. While Rondo has reentered the Chicago rotation following a high-profile benching, he is very clearly not in the long-term plans for the club. Perhaps that feeling that he has nothing to lose inspired this Instagram post that excoriates Wade and Butler for not living up to the example set by other veterans around the NBA:
Here’s a more readable version of his long caption:
My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team.
When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game.
My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable.
It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.
To make things worse, both Wade and young reserve Bobby Portis liked the photo:
Instagram comments never lie pic.twitter.com/Gh9PQDgxND
— Amanda Kaschube (@amandakaschube) January 26, 2017
Nothing about Rondo’s rant is subtle. Its very obvious point is that Wade and Butler have not lived up to the standards Rondo came to know when he played under leaders Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce during his time with the Boston Celtics. There is also the implication that Hoiberg does not stand up to Wade and Butler to the degree that he should, which is something Rondo apparently experienced playing under Doc Rivers.
It would be a gross understatement to call Rondo an imperfect messenger for these points. The 30-year-old veteran has had the opportunity to lead at several points in his career and failed the test every time. The worst of those instances came during his half-season with the Dallas Mavericks, when he was added midseason in the hopes of turning the team into a title contender and instead quit on respected head coach Rick Carlisle and his teammates during a playoff series. Rondo has no standing to criticize others for sowing discord and departing from the team concept.
But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. While our outsider’s perspective is naturally going to be incomplete given that we’re talking about what goes on in the locker room, the basic flow of Rondo’s post seems right. Wade and Butler did separate themselves from the pack without accepting their own faults, and they did take an in-house issue to the media. As Kelly said earlier, both players (and especially Wade) have had trouble accepting the power structure of the franchise. (Whether that power structure makes sense is another question altogether.)
The fallout from Rondo’s post could be serious. Wade and Butler were wrong to take their complaints to the press, but this move seems like the nuclear option. It would not be a surprise to see the Bulls sit Rondo and eat his contract or accept a very minor return in a trade. It’s entirely possible that the enigmatic point guard, once one of the few must-watch talents in the sport, could have played his last game in the NBA. He’s as toxic as they come.
At the same time, dumping Rondo is not going to get rid of the Bulls’ core problems. The franchise has no clear direction, stars who don’t get along with the coach, and a growing reputation for high-profile arguments. It’s not clear if there’s a solution beyond starting over and building with clear priorities.
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