Did you know that Rajon Rondo led the NBA in assists this season? Don’t be ashamed if you didn’t. Toiling for an unimpressive, uninspiring Sacramento Kings that was only intermittently interesting as a trainwreck, Rondo put up 11.7 assists per game while running an offense that finished 14th in offensive efficiency. It was an impressive bounce-back campaign for the 30-year-old after a disastrous half-season with the Dallas Mavericks, but there’s a reason Rondo’s 2015-16 will be remembered far more for his suspension for a homophobic slur directed at referee Bill Kennedy than for his play on the court.
Rondo therefore entered free agency this offseason as an interesting commodity, a player capable of putting up very good numbers of no clear benefit to his team. He left the market Sunday with a deal befitting such a player.
As reported by Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated via a message from Rondo himself, the four-time All-Star will join the Chicago Bulls on a two-year, $28 million contract. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst added that the second year is partially guaranteed, and USA Today’s Sam Amick said the second year has a vague “mutual buyout.” Either way, the general parameters of the contract seem set.
The Bulls should feel pretty happy with those terms for a starting point guard, especially with so few available on the market this summer and 36-year-old sixth man Jamal Crawford getting three years and $42 million from the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. Rondo has been defined by his deficiencies over his past few seasons, but his strengths are real. It’s unlikely that he will average close to 12 assists again with star Jimmy Butler as a backcourt partner, but a player who sets teammates up for buckets so often is far from useless. For that matter, Rondo improved his outside shooting last season to convert a career-best 36.5 percent of his three-pointers on 2.4 attempts per game. Those numbers could be skewed by playing with an interior presence as attention-grabbing as DeMarcus Cousins, but they show that Rondo can make adjustments to contribute in an era that seemed to have left him behind.
Yet it’s still fair to wonder exactly how Rondo is supposed to help Chicago in Fred Hoiberg’s crucial second season as head coach. Even if we set aside his growing reputation as a stat-hunter, Rondo seems to have little utility in an offense that will necessarily be built around Butler’s talents as a scorer and passer. He is not going to improve enough from outside to justify a role as a spot-up shooter, which means he could mess with the spacing of the squad overall. Rondo is also no longer close to an elite defender, so any suggestion that he and Butler will combine to form one of the NBA’s most suffocating backcourts is probably misguided.
Still, none of these issues ensure that Rondo will be a net negative for the Bulls. While Rondo’s terrible incident with Kennedy brought nothing but shame to himself and the franchise, he was far from Sacramento’s most problematic locker room presence (though his recent insinuation that he was the adult in the room amidst serious tension was a little laughable). As with the Kings, he will provide some pretty cool moments and highlights (including the occasional triple-double!) for a team that stuck between contention and rebuilding.
It’s that last bit that should worry Bulls fans most. More than anything, the Rondo signifies that John Paxson and Gar Forman don’t know where the franchise should head after trading Derrick Rose and letting Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol walk in free agency. The same team that contemplated trading Butler for a host of draft picks 10 days ago just brought in a veteran point guard with plenty of career accolades, which would appear to mean they’re still hoping to be a playoff team. But is that a realistic goal for a roster with so many holes and a head coach that looked unable to handle several upset players in his first season? The Rondo signing sadly doesn’t seem to matter much at all — it affects the Bulls’ image as a relevant team more than their status as one.
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