Hours after a report surfaced claiming the Bulls are evaluating head coach Fred Hoiberg, Hoiberg took a step toward evaluating and changing up the existing personnel as he benched point guard Rajon Rondo for the second half of Friday’s 111-101 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Rondo played 10 minutes and went scoreless with a minus-20 on the scoresheet as the Bulls had another slow start. Hoiberg went with a point guard rotation of Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant for the second half when the Bulls made a comeback that turned out to be fruitless.
Hoiberg admitted he’ll evaluate the starting five going forward, saying, “We have some decisions to make moving forward with our team.”
Hoiberg wouldn’t commit to starting Rondo Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks as the Bulls will conclude the 2016 portion of their schedule at home.
“I thought Michael gave us good energy in the first half and I thought Jerian played really solid last time,” Hoiberg said. “Gave him the backup minutes. (That’s) the decision we made.”
During halftime, Hoiberg apparently didn’t give Rondo an explanation for the benching but said Rondo was engaged on the bench during the comeback, encouraging his teammates.
“Negative,” said Rondo when asked if he received an explanation. “It don’t have to be a big deal. He’s the coach. He and Jim (Boylen) made some decisions. It’s the way it is.”
Boylen is associate head coach and the assistant most aligned to Rondo, most notably when Rondo was suspended for throwing a towel in Boylen’s face during a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks a few weeks ago.
Rondo mentioning Boylen was no mere slip of the tongue, in all likelihood. But he stopped short of expressing disappointment or creating waves, knowing his checkered history with teams and coaches.
“I didn’t start tonight. Things happen,” Rondo said. “It’s not life and death. Life is too short to be unhappy. It’s part of it, if I start, great. If I don’t, as long as we get the win that’s all that matters.”
Given the self-appointed nickname “The Three Alphas”, Rondo is having the hardest time adjusting to the setup with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, as the two All-Stars have made it work.
Thirty-plus games in, Rondo seems more like a victim of the team’s roster makeup than his own flaws as being a sketchy shooter was something well-known before the Bulls signed him.
It’s just being magnified because of the roster deficiencies and he could be getting singled out in a sense, meaning Butler and Wade will have to do more to keep him aboard.
“Yeah we have to. We’re all in this together,” Butler said. “We have to make sure his mind is still with us. We know his heart is gonna be. But we don’t want anyone drifting away because something like that may happen. We gotta stay in his ear, make sure he’s still about this team. We need him out here to win games.”
When Rondo is having a positive effect on the game, it makes the Bulls a different team as he controls the tempo and can play Hoiberg’s pace style as well as anyone. But when other teams lay off him, it gums up the spacing, as evidenced by Rondo’s 37.2 field goal percentage, as he averages 7.5 points, 7.3 assists and 6.7 rebounds in 30.9 minutes.
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Carter-Williams is no shooting savant, but it’s clear Hoiberg trusts him more than Rondo, as the fourth-year guard is a 41 percent shooter for his career. Carter-Williams made a tying basket in the final minutes Wednesday and scored 12 points Friday.
“I don’t think I was aggressive enough,” Rondo admitted. “I was taking what the defenses give me. Some games are different than others. For me it’s about our defense, when we get stops I can get out on the break and do what I do best.”