Chicago Bulls player reviews: Rajon Rondo, part-time point guard

Dec 6, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pistons won 102-91.Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pistons won 102-91.Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Rajon Rondo threw a towel in the face of associate coach Jim Boylen. He also called out Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler through social media. He put heat and embarrassment on the front office. He became a vital piece of a playoff upstart. And now he’s got John Paxson publicly stating that they’re likely to pick up the $13.4 million tab for Rondo in 2017-18.

I think I just covered everything. In 65 words, I have explained to you the rollercoaster ride that is The Rajon Rondo Experience.

Rondo has the worst track record of any prominent point guard over the past several seasons, combined with mostly declining numbers and playing time. He’s burned his bridges with the last team he played for, the Sacramento Kings, and before that he pissed off Rick Carlisle so much that he was exiled from the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of a playoff series. That takes some doing, as they say.

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By the time this season reached the mid-point, it looked like Rondo’s next stop was going to be China. It was that bad of a year to that point. His time with the team was playing out exactly like we expected when I wrote the fight rankings for Rondo versus each of his teammates.

There’s plenty of ugly to cover with Rajon. He was a terrible defender, clashed with his star teammates and appeared to openly disrespect a member of the Bulls coaching staff. He’s a terrible shooter, except when he’s playing for Chicago. He caused all sorts of problems for his teammates, he was unguardable – because no one felt the need to guard him, not because he rediscovered the athleticism of his mid-20s.

There was some interesting good, too.

Barring the nine games of Anthony Morrow, Rondo was the best 3-point shooter on the Bulls. He shot 37.5 percent from deep, a career-best number for the mediocre shooter. He was left alone to shoot from the mid-range and deep an incredible amount of the time. Remarkably, he cashed in. Well, compared to his teammates.

He played 69 games, starting 42 of them, during the 2016-17 season. He averaged 7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on 26.7 minutes per game.

The narrative was mostly predictable. Except for the last chapter. And that usually makes for a great story, or a M. Night Shyamalan script, which is worse, but still has a twist. Rondo’s season was almost a great story, but ultimately, it’s going to go down as another Shyamalan movie. There was a twist, but we get it, this is Rajon.

He started out playing passable point guard. Michael Carter-Williams was injured and Jerian Grant still isn’t good as of the time I’m writing this. He missed a couple games, including a suspension, before everything hit the fan. He received a DNP in five consecutive games to end December and start January. After he returned, he played exclusively off the bench until March 13. I said it before, but it bears saying again, this dude was absolutely destined for China. Like, the writing was on the wall and he was playing very poorly.

The Boylen incident was one thing, but the run-ins with Wade and Butler were another. And his terrible defense, which never went away during the regular season, was one of the biggest factors in his demotion. He overcame all of that when it counted.

At no credit of his own, Fred Hoiberg put him back in the starting lineup. I’m sure he didn’t want to, but Carter-Williams, Grant and Isaiah Canaan combined for the most embarrassing performance by a trio that had a starting NBA job just sitting in their laps and they could do absolutely nothing it.

And Rondo waited.

After a season of apathetic, D-League styled defense and general troublemaking, he was back into the starting lineup. He never left.

Over the final month of the regular season, Rondo started every game he played. He also averaged 12 points and eight assists, significantly better than his overall season averages. During that stretch, he helped Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic drag this bloated team into the final playoff spot. It took them until the final game of the season to lock up that playoff spot.

Then Playoff Rondo happened. He was suddenly motivated, though we can probably just chalk it up to National TV Rondo. He played out of his mind in the first two games of the series. He shot 40 percent or better in both games. In Game 2, he put up lines that only a select number of Chicago players have achieved, including Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, en route to a 11 point, 14 assist, five steal performance. The Bulls led Boston 2-0 in their playoff series. Rondo didn’t play again, with hand/wrist injury, and Chicago didn’t win again.

For now, it looks like Rondo will be back next season. In the end of season press conference, it sounded like both Paxson and Gar Forman were in favor of picking up their team option for the upcoming season. That move would tack $13.4 million to their already large payroll. They don’t seem to mind.

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This move, in classic Bulls fashion, probably has little to do with the product on the court. See, despite all of his antics and public clashing with management, coaching and teammates, the young players were signing his praises. I’m guessing that GarPax talked themselves into $13.4 million being the ideal amount to pay a mentor-babysitter who will work some sort of magic on their decrepit backcourt of the future featuring Grant and Cameron Payne, perhaps even MCW will be back.

In staying the course of this season, it isn’t over even when it’s over where Rondo is concerned. The team has until the end of June to make a decision on his deal for next season. It looks like a good playoff game might eclipse a season of frustration and yuck. Good for you, Rajon.