When the Bulls’ season came to a conclusion last year, it was apparent that the days atop the East were numbered, at least with the players on hand. After the necessary departure of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, fans feared that Jimmy Butler was left to keep this inexperienced core from sinking until the front office could begin to rebuild. With the acquisition of Dwayne Wade, the Bulls secured short-term assurance that they wouldn’t simply be a struggling franchise. Perhaps the most crucial signing though, had happened a few days before Wade’s. At age 30, a 4x All Star, 3x NBA assists leader and 2x NBA All-defensive first team, Rajon Rondo is just another piece to the puzzle…for now.
Like he did alongside the NBA’s first modern “Big Three,” Rajon Rondo has shown that having the pieces isn’t always enough without someone to glue them all together. After averaging a career high 11.7 assists, 6 rebounds, and a double/double each game with the Sacramento Kings last season, Rajon Rondo has the opportunity to be the invaluable factor that binds the Chicago Bulls together.
Similar to Chicago’s last point guard though, the numbers are a façade to the struggles that have occurred throughout Rondo’s veteran career. There was the stop in Dallas, and it was nothing more, where Rondo’s back injuries became a synonymous term to describe his disagreements with head coach Rick Carlisle. Before that, there was an ACL tear that sidelined Rondo for nearly a year. It all equated to a quiet three seasons where one of the NBA’s once-elite point-guards’ resume didn’t change. The question has now become, did Gar Forman simply replace one decaying floor general with another?
While Rondo may be three seasons removed from an all-star appearance, he is also nearly four years removed from his ACL tear. More importantly, the pass-first leader is coming off a season where he matched his career-high in assists with a lineup that would be no step up from the one he’ll be a part of this year.
While Fred Hoiberg can do a few different things with this Bulls rotation, Rondo will have two all-star caliber players alongside him and some improving scorers in the mix as well. The question though, is whether or not it even matters. In Dallas, with Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis on-hand, Rondo seemingly had a passer’s delight. Yet coach Rick Carlisle, who lead the Mavericks to a title with Jason Kidd at the helm, decided that Rondo’s potential wasn’t enough reason to work through the negatives.
This Bulls team isn’t the Boston Celtics team that Rondo fit seamlessly into. With Dwyane Wade accompanying Rondo at the other guard spot, Rondo may not have the freedom and control he had with the Kings either. What will be afforded to Rondo is an offensive-minded coach who will have a flexible approach to try and fit his pieces together. That starts up top with the guards. While Rondo is one question mark in the lineup, his playmaking ability could help answer some of the other question marks that lie in Chicago’s big men and young players.
Ex-Bulls PG Derrick Rose said the Knicks were a “super-team,” while others contest that they may not even be a playoff team. In an era where the league is more saturated with talent than ever before, someone who can create opportunities is as valuable as ever. Similar to the Knicks, the Bulls are nothing more than an intriguing team until they can actually win games. Rajon Rondo can be the guy who elevates them from a promising team on paper to a winning team on the court. Until then, Rondo himself is only an intriguing player for this upcoming season.
With a team that struggled defensively and relied on rebounding in 2015-16, Rondo’s rebounding and defense can ensure the Bulls get their money’s worth. Rondo may still have star potential, but he’ll need to be a valuable asset in this lineup before he can have a shot to be anything more.