WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rajon Rondo is on his third strike, knowing one misstep, one false move will have him playing in China or have him searching for an assistant coaching job.
The Bulls know this, too, which is why they hold the cards for his immediate future and beyond.
Put him in moth balls with little communication, yank him in and out of the lineup or rotation as they so please, the team holds the cards and Rondo knows his history has much more to do with this than the actual present.
"Without a doubt. It's a test for me," he calmly said to CSNChicago.com after his one-game reprieve from the dungeon of the bench resulted in a close loss to the Washington Wizards, a game where Rondo acquitted himself well in 27 minutes with 12 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Previous transgressions make it easier to create the optics of Rondo being the problem more than he actually may be, with run-ins in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento being on his rap sheet.
Rondo doesn't lament where he is, but he certainly knows why things are perceived as such to the general public. But it doesn't stop the thinker from thinking and coming up with the conclusion that he's being insulted.
Considering he stays up at night watching games two or three times over, then comes into meetings with coaches the next morning with index cards of suggestions that don't merely revolve around his teammates' weaknesses but his own, it's not hard for him to connect the dots.
"It's a slap in the face. I'm not the first person to get slapped in the face in life," said Rondo to CSNChicago.com. "I don't feel any type of way. Either way, when you put away... I don't make excuses. This is who I work for, and it's a job."
It's a job he still loves and the players he identifies with most have the labels that lead teams to stay away — guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Monta Ellis — teammates in Sacramento and Dallas, respectively.
Those players are still in the league. Josh Smith, another close friend, is not — playing in China after failing to come to terms with a team this past offseason, following stints with Detroit, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers since the start of the 2014-15 season.
"We're just different," said Rondo to CSNChicago.com. "KG (Kevin Garnett) told me, it's what makes me who I am. Stubbornness, not the know-it-all attitude but the work ethic. That's what makes me, me."
Smith just turned 31 last month. Rondo, his teammate at Oak Hill Academy, will turn 31 next month.
"I feel like I have at least 6-7 years," Rondo said. "The time I was on the bench, my perspective changed. I look at substitution patterns, watching other coaches call timeout. Always preparing. I even took a board home practicing my plays. I'm always trying to use my time wisely. I'm out there studying the game, how to become a coach, how to run things. Trying to continue to learn the game."
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Who knows if he's taking notes from Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or associate coach Jim Boylen, the coaching staff member who could've very likely told Rondo that he needed to be saved from himself, but it would be ironic if it were the case.
The murky communication with Hoiberg, the lack of communication from the front office about his future in Chicago or potentially elsewhere could make him a ticking time bomb, if he didn't see it coming.
"Does it bother me? It would bother me if I didn't expect it, if it wasn't a surprise," said Rondo to CSNChicago.com. "My intuition is crazy. It's a gift and it's a blessing. I'm able to be in a situation at age 30, playing basketball. My perspective is different, this doesn't define me. It's my job."
Calling it a job is likely a way to detach himself from the situation so that frustration won't take over.
Carefully choosing Chicago given his reputation and the results of this experiment means he could likely be in the same position in six months — almost tacitly saying what was communicated to him isn't how things have laid out.
"I was very cautious this summer, where I chose to play," Rondo said. "What I was told in the meeting, It's a little different than what I was told in the meeting. Once I learn the system, I can run the show. It's what I do. I don't come in like I know it all. I put the extra work in."
After all, he's on his third strike and is the easy person to blame in the Bulls' underachieving — hence his not being able to help himself by saying "I felt fast" after Tuesday's game — an obvious shot to Hoiberg telling him that Rondo looked slow before his benching.
"I've been in this game a long time, great players, great coaches," Rondo said. "What happened to me early is kind of a curse. I expected it would be how it was my early years in Boston. How the veterans were in the locker room. How the players were all for one another."
"KG (Kevin Garnett) always told me, this isn't how it usually is around the league. it's a little surprising I'm going through it but at the same time, I was warned that this is the NBA."
He knows he's also the odd piece who doesn't fit in with Jimmy Butler's ascension and Dwyane Wade's homecoming, and has probably figured out the Bulls likely wouldn't have signed him had they known Wade would actually leave the Miami Heat in free agency.
But just because it was easy for him to put the pieces together that the pieces don't fit together doesn't mean he'll sit idly or cower in the corner, or perform with less vigor when his name is called upon.
It merely means he'll play the way he always does, or at least the way he intended to play when agreeing to terms with the Bulls — and it's no surprise to see how much energy he played with Tuesday with the younger players following eagerly, as they likely bonded over opportunity that doesn't come often.
In his mind, his expectations are simple but apparently hard to fulfill.
"I managed to get three hall of famers the ball (in Boston) and keep everybody happy," Rondo said. "All I have is two here, I had one last year. It's what I do, I run the show. It's a little different."
And it's clear the decision-makers with the Bulls don't like things being a "little different", thus leading to this impasse, one without a clear solution or person to blame.