Grades: Chicago Bulls unwise to buy into Rajon Rondo’s heavy baggage
Another year, another desperate front office talks into itself into taking on Rajon Rondo’s considerable baggage.
The Bulls agreed to sign Rondo, an unrestricted free agent point guard, to a two-year deal worth $28 million, according to ESPN.com and NBA.com. The second year of the deal is reportedly partially guaranteed. Rondo, 30, averaged 11.9 PPG and a league-leading 11.7 APG in Sacramento last season, but the volatile floor general clashed with former coach George Karl, drew a suspension for targeting a referee with an anti-gay slur and led the Kings to just 33 wins. The four-time All-Star will step in to fill the void created by Chicago’s pre-draft trade of Derrick Rose to New York.
To anyone paying attention, and to any front office with a reasonable solution at point guard, Rondo is no longer worth the hassle. Although he shot a career-best 36.5% on threes and posted a respectable 16.9 Player Efficiency Rating for the Kings, he again failed to translate his own individual production into team success. Sacramento’s offensive efficiency rating was higher with Darren Collison on the court rather than Rondo, in large part because the latter is a flow-killer thanks to his ball-stopping and a floor-cramper thanks to his shaky jumper and reluctance to attack the hoop in search of his own offense.
Defensively, Rondo hardly resembles the player who earned four All-Defensive selections while in Boston. He alternates between reckless gambling and inexplicable ambivalence, ranking 30th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and posting a terrible 106.8 Defensive Rating for a Kings defense that ranked 23rd in Defensive Efficiency. Chicago’s other top point guard option, the 34-year-old Jose Calderon, played such poor defense last season that it was the subject of tabloid headlines. Nevertheless, Calderon posted better marks in both DRPM and Defensive Rating than Rondo. That’s remarkable and, frankly, tragic.
Even Rondo’s most stubborn apologists—those who delude themselves into thinking his triple doubles are significant, point out that his numbers have recovered since a serious knee injury in 2013 and buy into the notion that he’s merely “eccentric”—had to question their support during his ugly incident with referee Bill Kennedy last December. Not only did Rondo cross way over the line during the confrontation with Kennedy that led to his ejection, he first issued a muddled statement that fell short of an apology. Finally, after ducking the media and setting off a firestorm of criticism, Rondo issued a second statement that included an apology.
The Kennedy episode was the latest example of Rondo being his own worst enemy. At the end of the 2014–15 season, Rondo bailed on the Mavericks during the middle of a playoff series after butting heads with coach Rick Carlisle at multiple points during the season. Before that, Rondo drew three suspensions in 2012 (for throwing a ball at a referee, for making contact with a referee and for engaging in a fight) and another a suspension in 2013 (for bumping a referee again). While Rondo was a key member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team, doing very well to keep a loaded cast of stars on track, he hasn’t played in a postseason win since 2012.
Carlisle ultimately won the power struggle in Dallas, as the Mavericks moved on in quick fashion, while Karl did not, as he failed to survive the Kings’ chemistry mess last season. Now Rondo enters a Bulls team in transition, one that has lost Rose and Joakim Noah and will almost certainly lose Pau Gasol too. Second-year coach Fred Hoiberg failed to establish a coherent identity or style in his disappointing first season, and now he will be at the mercy of Rondo’s domineering inconsistency. What’s more, Jimmy Butler, who never struck the right balance with Rose once he ascended to All-Star status, must now make it work with Rondo, an even more difficult task.
Chicago made the right call in moving on from Rose, as a split was best for both parties, but Bulls management clearly stumbled by not having a workable backup plan in place. Asking Rondo to carry a weakened roster, mesh with Butler and see eye-to-eye with Hoiberg, whose easy-going personality came under scrutiny last year, is begging for disaster.
Defenders of this move will point to the fact that the Bulls can simply part ways with Rondo next summer. As the Kings discovered during their circus of a season, it’s never quite that simple, is it? SI.com gave Sacramento an “F” last summer for its decision to ink Rondo, and nothing that has happened since then indicates Chicago deserves more favorable treatment.
The occasional breathtaking assist simply comes at too high of a cost. Even Vlade Divac managed to figure that out.