Bulls

Rajon Rondo fighting perceptions as he arrives in Chicago

Rajon Rondo fighting perceptions as he arrives in Chicago

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.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.