Confrontation can be productive, even if the methods are unconventional, even if the messengers are imperfect.
The strong words from Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, followed by a pointed Instagram post from partially-exiled point guard Rajon Rondo have created a storm that the Bulls franchise thought they were avoiding when they created the so-called "three alphas".
When proud and championship-tested, championship proven veterans walk into a locker room full of green faces, an uncertain front office and scattered coaching staff, it leads to thoughts that range across the board.
It can lead to three different messages, tackling three very disparate targets directly—and it means all parties can have heavy validity to their feelings and words.
And the three different roads can lead to one dark hallway in the Advocate Center, as two verbal bombs were followed by a precisely-timed Molotov cocktail Thursday afternoon.
Meaning Friday morning's shootaround will be filled with necessary tension and perhaps, in the words of late Chicago comedian Bernie Mac, "furniture moving", but at least, the air should be cleared while the season still has time to be salvaged—because after all, scorched earth is still walkable.
Rondo was one of the last to leave the locker room Wednesday at the United Center, the easiest target for criticism given his two-strike batting stance, and wasn't as emotionally-charged or motivated until Thursday afternoon when he called out Wade and Butler on social media.
Posting a picture from his days in Boston of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Rondo wrote, in part: "My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off."
Taking an even more direct shot at Wade and Butler, Rondo continued. It seemed he took the sentiments from Wade and Butler personally, knowing the younger players aren't into direct confrontation since they don't have the pedigree or backing to challenge the strong words.
Clearly, Rondo had time for it all, especially since he's respected by the young players in the locker room and knowing this is a sensitive time.
"My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym… When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership."
Wade, clearly frustrated, was calculated when he fired verbal ether into microphones in the locker room following Wednesday's inexplicable loss to the Atlanta Hawks, when the Bulls blew a 10-point lead in the final three minutes.
He questioned the commitment of the young players who've yet to find consistency through nearly 50 games.
"I don't know if I see enough guys who really, really want it," Wade said. "Losses like this have to hurt them. I'm 35 years old. I have three championships. It shouldn't hurt me more than it hurts these young guys."
Although it seemed like Wade was directly criticizing his younger teammates—which he was—it appeared his ire didn't stop there. Tacitly, it seemed like his focus was also on the front office and coaching staff not being satisfied hovering around .500 and having the gumption to do what's necessary to improve the roster.
There's certainly a fine line the Bulls are on, being in the murky land of "rebuild" or "contend", which Wade certainly understands. The front office can only sacrifice so much of the future for the sake of improving things in the moment, but as Wade is pointing out, which young players have proven themselves to be worthy of a spot in the future—hence, his comment about the players he feels could just be happy to put a jersey on and not fully committed to winning.
"Sometimes you're just happy to be here," he said. "Once the years start going by, you find yourself in your 30s and stuff like that and start looking back and wishing you did more, I don't know. I've always been a person who tries to seize the moment because tomorrow is not promised to anyone in this game."
When Wade said he wants to see the Bulls get back on track in the long term, one tends to believe him. He hasn't checked out in terms of performance, is on pace to play 73 games and has generally invested more than what someone can reasonably expect after 13 years in an exhausting but fulfilling marriage with the Miami Heat franchise.
With his investment come his strong words, like it or not. After Wade apologized on twitter for the Bulls' bad effort in Atlanta, he's followed up with two 30-point performances in the last three games.
Having watched the season unfold, Wade apparently decided this was the point to unleash direct and attention-grabbing statements.
Butler's feelings weren't as broad as Wade's although it's not a reach to see Butler and Wade being in lockstep overall. The frustration with Nikola Mirotic is evident, as Mirotic hasn't taken the next step in terms of his development, and took that ill-fated triple when he wasn't having a night—combined with Wade and Butler being on fire.
"I want to play with guys that care, guys that play hard, that want to do well for this organization," Butler said. "(Guys) that want to win games, man. Do whatever it takes, just win. Who cares who is shining? When we're winning everybody looks great, everybody is doing what they're supposed to do."
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
To understand Butler is simple enough: He respects hard work, direct coaching and fair accountability from the superiors. He may have been criticized for his comments about Fred Hoiberg over a year ago, saying he wanted Hoiberg to be stronger with the team and coach them harder, but it's hard to argue with the merits a year and half into this experiment.
It's been tough enough for Hoiberg to navigate through a terrain he didn't seem equipped for, and this makes it even tougher. Changing lineups without much in the way of explanation or displaying a direct criteria for being a starter or being removed from the rotation altogether (i.e. Michael Carter-Williams) has facilitated the uncertainty and added to the drama.
Welcoming three strong-minded players and encouraging vocal discourse leaves the door open for such things, when matters are often ignored and soft-pedaled as opposed to being dealt with directly.
He'll have to pick a side and risk alienating the other—and he can't do it privately, either. He'll have to be direct with the direct confrontation and live with the results.
It'll be a defining moment for the Bulls head coach, the man who seemingly does everything to avoid uncomfortable confrontations but inevitably finds himself unable to turn from it.