Rajon Rondo stood for plenty of moments during the Bulls’ 116-96 beating at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, the first full game of his benching after sitting the entire second half Friday night against the Pacers.
The Bulls guard stood at his locker moments later, candidly and honestly answering questions from the media about his future — one that seems to be in doubt some 30 games into his first season as a Bull.
“Absolutely,” said Rondo when asked if he accomplished enough in the NBA for the Bulls to accommodate him on a trade or some transaction to allow him to seek another team should the benching continue.
“Gar (Forman, Bulls GM) and I will have a talk. We’ll talk tonight and go from there. I don’t know if it’s right now, maybe the next 30, 18, 45 minutes. Tonight, before ’17 (the clock strikes midnight).”
By then, one wonders if the Bulls and Rondo will be working on a buyout to free him from the remainder of his contract — one that includes a $3 million buyout that has to be exercised before next July.
“No, I’m not surprised. Not surprised,” Rondo said. “It’s been a tough season. Certain buttons are being pushed and the Bulls are trying to figure things out.”
A source told CSNChicago.com early Saturday evening a buyout hadn’t been discussed, but that was before the game and things can change quickly.
“I’m gonna explode…No, I’m not,” said Rondo when asked what he’d do if the benching continued. “I’m gonna continue to work, get some work in, play some one on one. Take care of my body, lift and give these young guys as much advice while I’m on the bench.”
On the heels of a report about Hoiberg’s job security being in question, one has to wonder if this is some preemptive strike from the coach to take more control of this operation.
“I’m Rajon Rondo, it is what it is,” he said when asked if he felt as if he was being singled out for the Bulls’ issues — a nod to his history of being difficult to deal with in Boston and Sacramento in addition to his dust-up with associate head coach Jim Boylen in Dallas a few weeks ago.
So far, it’s been 72 minutes of inactivity and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg seems noncommittal about re-inserting his $14 million point guard back into the rotation, going with Michael Carter-Williams as starter and Jerian Grant as the backup.
“He was very professional about it,” Hoiberg said before the game. “Again, talked about doing whatever he can to help the team. I think that is very admirable for a guy that has had the type of career that he has had.”
Sounds like a statement from a coach who isn’t looking for much of an opening, a sharp contrast to their introduction over the summer when the two bonded over film sessions and early in training camp when Hoiberg allowed the likes of Rondo with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler to stop practices to get on their teammates.
Rondo hasn’t performed too dissimilarly from his last couple seasons since his knee injury in 2013.
Shooting 37 percent and 32 from 3 makes him a hot button for criticism because the game is moving in a direction that emphasizes shooting more than ever, and he’s an awkward fit alongside Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler.
Not having other shooters around him has certainly exacerbated his weaknesses, as he hasn’t been a top-level defender in quite some time but the Bulls made him a top priority in free agency, signing him before the Wade coup even seemed feasible.
Nikola Mirotic not being able to claim the starting power forward spot in training camp made things worse for Rondo, as the spacing has been nil and if the Bulls aren’t out and running its supremely hard for Rondo to be effective.
He said he thought he would be able to have more control over calling the offense but that hasn’t been the case.
“I think, not necessarily my best year but I’m calling a pretty good year,” Rondo said. “In Sacramento I was able to do things differently but knowing coming here to play with Dwyane and Jimmy it would be different. That was okay with me. Fred and I talked in the beginning, said I would be able to call a lot of plays. The flow of the game and throughout the season things may change. Fred and I spoke and we talked about it.”
Rondo didn’t sound very hopeful about his chances of playing again, not willing to buy into the notion that this is a temporary benching, like Mirotic’s two-game break.
“Yeah. But anything can happen. I just go off actions versus the words,” he said.
Rondo acknowledged he and Hoiberg met Saturday morning at the Advocate Center to discuss the decision, with Hoiberg apparently giving the explanation that he felt Rondo looked “slow” the last five games and asked Rondo if he was healthy.
Rondo said he told his coach that it’s the best his body has felt at this point in the season in his career, obviously showing a difference in opinion in terms of evaluating his performance to date.
“No I disagree but it’s part of it,” Rondo said. “He’s the head coach and we’re gonna go with that.”
Rondo admitted his pickup point on defense could be better, when asked about what things he could do better. The Bulls obviously felt their defense is better with Rondo off the floor but Rondo feels he’s at his best when the team defense is effective — meaning he doesn’t feel like he’s the big culprit in terms of slippage.
He’s been an unlikely barometer for the Bulls in their up and down season. The Bulls were 8-2 when Rondo amassed nine assists or more but were 3-8 when he had five assists or fewer.
On the season, he’s averaging 7.2 points, 7.1 assists and 6.5 rebounds, with big games in wins over Cleveland and San Antonio, balanced out against puzzling performances against Washington, Detroit and Milwaukee.
“It goes as far as our team goes. I think I’m most effective when we get stops,” Rondo said. “I’m able to get on the break and do what I do best. If not, it comes to the slowdown game, teams load the paint and we lose.”
Hoiberg intimated he spoke with Wade and Butler about it but was adamant it was his decision, while Rondo made inferences to Boylen being part of Friday’s decision to bench him for the second half.
Either way, it’s a situation that unraveled rather quickly and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some peaceful resolution shortly after many people break their New Year’s resolutions.