New Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo introduced himself to his newly adopted city, knowing full well he arrives in Chicago with a reputation that brought about questions and a surprising free-agency period.
Rondo led the NBA in assists last season in Sacramento but didn’t get many offers in a marketplace that was filled with them for players who weren’t as accomplished — in part due to his checkered history with coaches: in Boston with Doc Rivers and Dallas with Rick Carlisle.
He was relaxed and sometimes jovial, showing his wry sense of humor in a low-key media session, after agreeing to a two-year deal worth $28 million, one that has a player option and team buyout after this coming season.
It’s the first of two surprising moves in free agency, the second being the Bulls signing Chicago native Dwyane Wade to a two-year deal when he couldn’t reach terms with the Miami Heat.
Rondo will be the floor general for a team big on names, and in his case, reputations.
“A lot is perception. Not to knock or anything, you make the bed, you lay in it,” Rondo said. “As you get to know me — and you'll get to know me a little bit more, and coach (Fred) Hoiberg will get to know me — we'll see from there. I think I have a clean slate here, and these guys are looking forward and I'm just as thrilled to be here.”
The Bulls clearly are aware of Rondo’s history, thus presented him with a deal that would allow the team to walk away from the talented point guard after one season.
“Again, we do our work,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “We were very honest and transparent, as was he, in our conversations as far as how he would fit in this team and how he would fit in the culture we’ve created here. We thought the dialogue was really, really positive. Going forward we both felt it would be a good fit and thus, the signing.”
Rondo played in virtual anonymity in Sacramento last season, averaging more than 11 assists for a Kings team that routinely leads the NBA in dysfunction. Rondo’s history as a championship-winning lead guard from his days in Boston (2008) have taken a backseat to the more recent memories, including being banished by Carlisle after the first game of the 2015 NBA playoffs due to plenty of disagreements over playcalling.
“Me personally, I think I'm coming off one of my best seasons,” Rondo said. “A lot of people didn't see me play out west, in Sacramento, I think we had one (national) TV game. So I think I've had a pretty good year, I was pretty healthy this year. I didn't miss any games as far as injuries. I feel great, I've been taking care of my body.”
Rondo’s body has been a question in recent years after he tore his ACL during the 2013 season, but his basketball mind has always been respected, long noted as one of the NBA’s most cerebral players — which probably has contributed to his sketchy relationship with coaches.
“You can consider me stubborn, but I think I'm really intelligent,” he said. “I don't BS around. I put a lot of work in, I watch film, I study. People may knock it, but I think it's what makes me great. I talk to a lot of older players and players I have respect for, and they don't consider it a knock. I talk to older coaches as well. These guys will get to know me. Like I said people have always doubted me, and this is Day 1. We'll see.”
It’ll be necessary for Rondo to not only get along with Hoiberg, a coach who isn’t as accomplished on the sidelines as Rondo is on the floor. It’ll be a task for both, but Rondo feels like his two-hour session with Hoiberg on Friday, where they went over film and appeared to reach a common ground, means he’ll be able to play with the freedom he so desires.
“It's more of a read-based offense,” Rondo said. “It's not so much dictated on calling a set every time down the floor. I like to make my plays off reactions. I try to be two or three steps ahead of my guy, my opponent. So it's a perfect system to try to be great in.”
Whether it is or not remains to be seen, but one thing that is evident is Rondo’s confidence, worn proudly on his sleeve.
“What makes me great? I think the intangibles,” he said. “The little things I do on the court. I think I'm one, we have a lot of great leaders in our league, but I think I'm one of the best. I've learned from the best.”