The Bulls were curb-stomped once again by the Bucks on New Year’s Eve, but that’s barely newsworthy at this point. The real news was that Rajon Rondo was benched entirely after Fred Hoiberg benched him for the second half of the Pacers loss.
Hoiberg said the benching was a “basketball” decision and told Rondo he’s been looking “slow,” per K.C. Johnson. Rondo certainly has been bad at basketball. He just finished up a December in which he shot under 36 percent from the field and attempted a grand total of five free throws while making one. That’s so bad it’s funny. And of course there was the apathetic defense, silly turnovers and one-game suspension for an argument with coaches.
This decision also comes right after John Paxson talked about playing the younger guys more, and the Bulls have two young players at point guard in Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant who have seen more minutes with Rondo stapled to the pine. While Carter-Williams and Grant have been mostly bad in their small sample sizes of play (including Isaiah Canaan, all four Bulls point guards are shooting under 40 percent), it’s probably better for the future of the franchise to get more of a look at these guys to determine if they’re long-term pieces.
So there are a few questions here. Is this a permanent benching? Will Hoiberg try Rondo with the second unit where he could theoretically help create more looks for the supposed “shooters” on the team? Is there a buyout or trade on the horizon?
Rondo met with Paxson and Gar Forman on Saturday night, and The Athletic’s Sean Highkin reported that there’s currently no imminent plan to move on from the mercurial point guard. Johnson suggested the same and said he doesn’t envision anything happening on that front for another month or so:
If Rondo remains out of rotation in February, would look for movement then. Until then, status quo.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 1, 2017
But if Rondo doesn’t return to the rotation at all, something Hoiberg hasn’t committed to yet either way, you have to imagine there will be a parting of the ways. When asked if he felt comfortable about asking to be moved elsewhere if he stays out of the rotation, he answered with a simple “absolutely.”
Rondo has next to no value on the trade market, so it’s hard to see a good deal being worked out that doesn’t include the Bulls including some kind of sweetener or taking back an undesirable contract. A buyout of his two-year, $27.4 million deal (only $3 million next year is guaranteed) feels more likely, and the Bulls could stretch that $3 million guarantee over three years.
To his credit, Rondo put on a good show for reporters and has seemingly handled the benching with dignity. Hoiberg lauded Rondo’s professionalism, and Rondo said he’s going to keep working hard:
"I'm going to explode," Rondo said sarcastically about his response to being benched. "Nah, I'm going to continue to work. Play more 1-on-1. Stay fit. Take care of my body. Lift. And give these young guys as much advice as I can while I'm on the bench supporting them."
He also gave this gem when asked if he felt like he’s being singled out: "I'm Rajon Rondo. It is what it is."
That quote is a perfect transition into talking about why the hell the Bulls signed Rondo in the first place. He’s Rajon Rondo! He hasn’t been a particularly effective player since his ACL injury and has all the attitude red flags (there’s been a lot of talk about how great a teammate he’s been, but then you get stuff like the suspension), and the fit was always strange and made even stranger when the Bulls also signed Dwyane Wade. Rondo even acknowledged the weird fit:
Hoiberg said he still envisions a role for Rondo. But Rondo conceded he's not a great fit for the way the Bulls currently are playing.
"I'm most effective when we get stops," he said. "I'm able to get on the break and create and do what I do best and not in a slowdown game when teams load the paint on us."
It’s true that the Wade signing wasn’t really a possibility until after the Bulls had agreed to a deal with Rondo, but that doesn’t get them off the hook here. The problem was their pursuit of Rondo to begin with, and K.C. even said last night he was their TOP priority in free agency. It’s incredibly inept to talk a big game about getting younger and more athletic, then trade Derrick Rose (which was still a fine move), then decide that your Rose replacement and top FA target is a 30-year-old Rajon Rondo.
They then doubled down on the weirdness by signing Wade, and now all the problems many envisioned have cropped up after the hot start. The Bulls are BY FAR the worst three-point shooting team in the league, and they just finished a December in which they made only 5.1 triples per game and had the NBA’s worst offensive rating.
Assuming there’s no miracle turnaround for Rondo here, this should be the final straw for Forman (It’s hard to see Pax getting canned) in Chicago, even if the Bulls still make the playoffs in a terrible East. (I’m still kind of convinced they make it.) Forman has done little to inspire confidence as a GM in recent years, from the questionable signings of guys like Rondo/Pau to the Thibs feud to horrific drafting. This past offseason is just the cherry on top.
As for Rondo’s current situation, I’d like to see the Bulls just cut bait and move on. Play the younger guys, and also look into using zero point guard lineups featuring Jimmy Butler and Wade as the primary ball handlers. I just don’t see much of a point for Rajon Rondo anymore, and I wouldn’t be sad if he didn’t play another minute in a Bulls uniform.