NBA Buzz: Could Rajon Rondo return to the Bulls next season?

NBA Buzz: Could Rajon Rondo return to the Bulls next season?

When the Bulls signed Rajon Rondo last July to a two-year contract with a team option and a small buyout for 2017-18, the odds of Rondo being in a Bulls uniform for that second year never looked very good.

The original plan called for Rondo to serve as a coach on the floor for a young, rebuilding Bulls team. When Rondo came in for his free-agent visit on July 1, Fred Hoiberg talked about putting the ball in his hands and giving him a lot of latitude in making play calls and distributing the ball to teammates in spots where they could be most effective.

But that all changed when 12-time All Star Dwyane Wade fell into the Bulls' laps after his negotiations for a new contract in Miami fell apart. Adding the 34-year-old Wade put two ball-dominant players in the lineup alongside Rondo, and after some early success, the Bulls' half-court offense got bogged down with poor floor spacing and too many isolation plays.

Rondo was taken out of the starting lineup in late December and fell completely out of the rotation. At that point, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Bulls bought him out of the rest of his contract.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Rondo's farewell. The Bulls decided to keep him on the roster in case his $14 million salary-cap number would be useful in a trade. And after watching Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams fail to establish themselves as the starting point guard, Hoiberg eventually returned Rondo to the rotation as the backup, using him to push the pace with a second unit made up of young players like Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine and Cris Felicio.

Rondo never thought he would get a chance to become a starter again, but after an embarrassing loss in Boston on March 12, Hoiberg made the move to try to inject some pace into a stagnant offense. The results have been better than anyone expected, with Rondo playing much more aggressively on the offensive end and working well with Jimmy Butler.

Since Wade went out with an elbow injury on March 15, Rondo has been playing his best basketball of the season, averaging right around 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Unfortunately, Rondo injured his right wrist in Tuesday's loss in New York and his status for the rest of the week is up in the air.

So assuming the Bulls make the playoffs with Rondo excelling as the floor general, is there now a scenario where the 31-year-old point guard returns to Chicago next season?

No matter which direction the front office decides to go with the roster, it seems unlikely. If John Paxson and Gar Forman keep Butler and Wade as the headliners, they'll probably need Rondo's cap space ($13.397 million) to try to add another veteran to the roster who will be a better fit with the Bulls' leading scorers.

And if Butler is traded during the offseason, will the Bulls really want Rondo around taking minutes from young point guards Cameron Payne and Grant? The short answer is no.

The long answer is both Payne and Grant are under team control for two more seasons on rookie scale contracts and the front office has a lot invested in Payne after sending Taj Gibson and McDermott to Oklahoma City to acquire his services. They also would like to see Grant develop into a consistent rotation player after bringing him over in the Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks.

So appreciate Rondo's veteran pride and work ethic in coming back from exile to help lead the Bulls' playoff push. But economic and roster realities most likely mean his NBA odyssey will continue in a fifth city next season.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

What's next for Derrick Rose?

Speaking of veteran point guards looking for a new home next season, it will be interesting to see what kind of free-agent market develops for Derrick Rose. We learned over the weekend Rose will need a fourth knee surgery to remove a torn meniscus in his left knee. That makes two surgeries on each knee for a player who turns 29 before next season begins.

Rose talked openly about landing a big free-agent contract as far back as Bulls Media Day in September 2015. But after the latest knee injury, Derrick will most likely have to settle for one guaranteed season and an option year at far less than his max contract value.

So which teams might be interested in Rose this offseason? Well, don't rule out a return to the Knicks. Even though Jeff Hornacek has indicated his team will be more reliant on the triangle offense next season, the Knicks have been starting undrafted rookie Ron Baker at the point, backed up by Chasson Randle. If the Knicks don't draft a point guard with their top-10 pick, they could consider bringing Rose back for one year, plus a team or player option.

Since point guard is probably the deepest position in the NBA, there aren't too many teams looking for a starter this offseason, and you know Rose won't sign with a team that would ask him to come off the bench. Forget about a return to Chicago, that ship has sailed. How about 90 miles to the north in Milwaukee? Might work for Rose, but the Bucks are probably comfortable going forward with second-round surprise Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova.

Looking at other NBA rosters, Rose might fit in rebuilding situations in Philadelphia or Sacramento, but would he be willing to go there? Rose works out in Los Angeles during the offseason, but neither the Lakers or the Clippers are likely in the market for a point guard, unless Chris Paul surprises everyone and leaves in free agency.

Rose could be a fall-back option in Toronto if Kyle Lowry leaves in free agency or in New Orleans if Jrue Holiday signs with another team. But the cold reality is Rose won't have a lot of great options coming off another knee surgery. And, who would have predicted Rose signing a contract for a lot less than long-time teammates Joakim Noah and Luol Deng (each getting four years and $72 million in free agency), as well as non-descript players like Timofey Mozgov, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and the aforementioned Dellavedova?

Russell Westbrook wrapping up MVP season

Can we go ahead and engrave that MVP trophy for Russell Westbrook now? As of this writing, Westbrook had just tied Oscar Robertson's seemingly unreachable total of 41 triple-doubles in a single season and will undoubtedly surpass the Big O over Oklahoma City's final five games. Westbrook also is a lock to average a triple-double for the season, matching Robertson's remarkable accomplishment from the 1961-62 campaign.

With all due respect for James Harden's remarkable year in Houston, Kawhi Leonard's ascension in San Antonio and LeBron James' all-around brilliance in Cleveland, Westbrook is having an historic season while almost single-handedly carrying the Thunder to the playoffs following Kevin Durant's free-agent departure.

Sure, leading a team to 50 wins has been almost a prerequisite for winning the MVP award, and Oklahoma City will fall short of that mark, but Westbrook's ability to maintain that level of play over an 82-game schedule is one of the most remarkable feats we've seen in any sport.

Stat of the week

As most Bulls fans know, Derrick Rose is the youngest player to win the MVP award, earning the honor at the age of 22 after leading the Bulls to an NBA-best 62 wins in the 2010-11 season. Unfortunately, one year later his career was derailed by the serious knee injury he suffered in Game 1 of an opening-round playoff series against Philadelphia.

CSN's stats whiz Chris Kamka put together this look at how Rose's three All-Star seasons compare to his numbers since the ACL injury in April 2012.

Clearly, Rose has never been the same player since that first knee injury, and it's painful for Bulls fans to think about what might have been had the hometown star been able to stay healthy.

Quote of the week

With Dwyane Wade's imminent return from the elbow injury he suffered on March 15, Bulls fans will once again get to hear Tommy Edwards' "from Chicago" introduction that Rose made famous. Question is, how healthy can Wade possibly be just three weeks removed from a chip fracture in his shooting elbow?

Wade's good friend Jimmy Butler had this to say after Wade scrimmaged with the team Wednesday in Philadelphia: "I see him out there playing basketball," Butler said. "It's good to see him out there, obviously. But I just want him to come back whenever he knows he can go 100 percent, not hold back."

And, as CSN's Vincent Goodwill is reporting, Wade's return will come Saturday night in Brooklyn. The 14-year veteran wants to contribute whatever he can to help the Bulls get to the playoffs in his homecoming season.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers


Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. LeBron James will be on your television

Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2

Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.

3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year

OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”