Strong words from Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade creates storm Bulls thought they were avoiding

Strong words from Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade creates storm Bulls thought they were avoiding

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."

[MORE: Rajon Rondo unleashes harsh criticism of Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler in Instagram post]

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.

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Tuesday begins the staggered, three-day voyage of 21 NBA teams to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. for the 2019-20 season restart (the Raptors have already arrived).

For the Bulls, and Bulls fans, that’s not of direct consequence. Excluded from the bubble, supporters and observers will be limited to loose Bulls ties — enter: Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler — and draft lottery dreaming as the NBA’s best battle for the 2019-20 crown in Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean the next five months, which will comprise an unprecedented offseason in the league’s history, don’t hold significance for the Bulls. A likely third consecutive top-10 draft choice is on the way for the team, as are key contractual deadlines for players currently on the roster and a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bulls news and analysis.

There remains much unknown about the 2020 NBA offseason — chiefly, from the Bulls’ perspective, the salary cap, luxury tax line and status of the predraft process, the last of which has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also now in play is the matter of a possible eight-team bubble being constructed in Chicago for the squads not joining the league in Orlando, though there are hurdles galore on that front.

What we do have is a framework of a reported schedule to track through the remainder of the summer and ensuing autumn. Here are some key dates for Bulls fans to watch for the time being (all of which are, of course, subject to change given the potentially fluid nature of the league’s calendar amid the pandemic):

NBA Draft

Aug. 17: Early entry deadline for prospects

The last day for underclassmen not automatically eligible to declare for the NBA draft to state their intentions. Moved back from its original date of April 26, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Scott Phillips has you covered tracking who’s already declared or testing the waters.

Aug. 25: Draft Lottery

Typically, the early entry deadline and draft lottery would be nearly two months apart, with the combine sandwiched in between. But with the pandemic moving predraft interviews to Zoom, and live, remote workouts currently prohibited, it appears the league will squeeze both into an eight-day span, also per Wojnarowski.

The Bulls have selected No. 7 three years in a row, using those picks to draft core pieces in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And even as the world erupts into chaos around them, they slot seventh in the lottery ranks once again this season. 

But with the NBA smoothing its lottery odds before the 2019 draft, the Bulls will have a modicum higher of a chance of leaping. They enter the lottery with a 7.5% chance of nabbing the No. 1 pick, 32% shot at vaulting into the top four and 19.7% odds of staying locked at No. 7. They also own mathematical chances at No. 8 (34.1%), No. 9 (12.9%), No. 10 (1.3%) and even 11 (0.03%).

Last nugget of note: This year’s lottery intentionally falls 11 days after the conclusion of the NBA’s eight-game seeding round in Orlando; while the eight teams left out of the bubble are locked into their current slots, the final six teams in the 14-team lottery will be populated by those who fall short of the playoffs. Right now, those six are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. If any of them vault into the postseason during the seeding games and play-in round, they’ll flip places with the team they usurp outside of the lottery. Both the lottery order, and the order of selections 15 - 30 will be determined by team record from when the league suspended play on March 11. 

Oct. 6: Early withdrawal deadline for prospects

Any not automatically eligible prospects that declared for the draft on or before Aug. 17 will have the opportunity to rescind that declaration (and maintain NCAA eligibility) on or before Oct. 6, per Wojnarowski.

Oct. 16: 2020 NBA Draft

The draft this year will fall three days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Oct. 13), according to Wojnarowski. Broadcast, location and logistical specifics appear to be undetermined as of yet.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 6.0

Option/Offer Deadlines and Extension Eligibilities

From there, a few key decision days for players already on the Bulls’ roster loom. First and certainly not least...

Oct. 17: Otto Porter Jr.’s player option deadline

As reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Otto Porter Jr. will have until Oct. 17 to decide whether or not to exercise his roughly $28.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season. His opting in appears all but a certainty (especially coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just 14 games, and amid a potentially tumultuous cap environment), and will essentially seal the Bulls’ fate as an over-the-cap team this offseason. 

Heaping that $28.5 million figure onto the Bulls’ books would bring the team’s guaranteed salaries for the 2020-21 season to $106,027,707 (numbers via Spotrac) before addressing restricted free agents or contracts for any draftees. The latest reputable pre-pandemic cap projection, from Wojnarowski, was $115 million, which could now be subject to change.

Oct. 17: Qualifying offer deadline

Also on Oct. 17 is the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents, per Marks. The Bulls have three: Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison. Full breakdown on the considerations at play for each here.

Oct. 18: Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Porter and Cristiano Felicio become extension eligible

The next day, per Marks, three Bulls starters become extension eligible — Markkanen on a rookie-scale basis, while LaVine and Porter are of the veteran designation.

Markkanen’s case is among the more curious in the league. His third season saw marked regression from his second in usage, opportunity and production, but given his skillset and considerable potential, he still represents a possible building block for the Bulls moving forward. A year ago — assuming expected development — we might have thought we’d be pondering a max for Markkanen at this point. Now, with a new front office regime in place, his market value is anyone’s guess. Maybe Arturas Karnisovas and Markkanen’s representation find an amenable compromise before the start of the 2020-21 season. But perhaps just as likely is Karnisovas wanting to see more from him, and Markkanen taking the opportunity to bet on himself making a leap in a contract year and earning some extra dough, as Jimmy Butler did five years ago.

RELATED: Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?

LaVine has two years and $39 million remaining on a contract he has become one of the more team-friendly in the league given his production since returning full-time from his ACL tear. Porter and Felicio’s deals enter their final years in 2020-21. Frankly, it’d be surprising to see any of them consummate extensions before Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley get a chance to see the Bulls up close and in action.

Free Agency

Oct. 18: Free Agency opens

According to Wojnarowski, free agency is expected open Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, with the moratorium period running from Oct. 19 - 23, and lifting on Oct. 24.

As mentioned, the Bulls will likely be out of the running for any appreciable cap space when that window opens. But they will have their (as of now) non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with — possible targets for which you can peruse in K.C. Johnson’s latest mailbag.

And for what it’s worth, that luxury tax line could be worth monitoring. In a tweet Monday, Marks mentioned a previous projection of $139 million for next season’s luxury tax. That projection would have to plunge pretty far for the Bulls to need sweating it out, but in the current climate, who knows what could be on the table? If the Bulls somehow found themselves over that line, the difference in last seasons non-taxpayer and taxpayer MLE was about $3.5 million (~$9.2 million to $5.7 million).


7 WNBA players test positive for coronavirus, Indiana Fever's travel delayed

7 WNBA players test positive for coronavirus, Indiana Fever's travel delayed

The WNBA announced Monday that seven of 137 (5.1%) tested players were positive for COVID-19, and that 11 of the league's 12 teams will report to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for its season start-up by the end of the day.

The one exception in that travel schedule is the Indiana Fever. After sustaining two positive tests in their organization, the Fever's travel will be delayed at least five days "in an abundance of caution due to the CDC’s close contact self-quarantine requirements," according to a statement from the league.

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"Any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until she satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician," the statement said.

That 5.1% positive rate checks in under the NHL (5.8%) and NBA's (7.1%) most recent rounds of testing, and above MLB's (1.2%).

The WNBA's season is expected to tip off at some point in late July in a bubble environment at IMG Academy.