Chicago Bulls management has until June 30 to decide whether to pick up a $13.4 million option on Rajon Rondo or buy the veteran point guard out for $3 million.
If coach and teammate feedback is considered, it will be an easy decision.
“He meant a lot to me. He’s like the brother I never had,” teammate Bobby Portis said of the former University of Kentucky star. “He always called me, making sure I was good. When I wasn’t playing at the beginning of the year, he always invited me over to his house to eat, talk to me about other things going on. For him, it was bigger than basketball because you’re only playing this game for so long. But the relationships that you build last forever.”
Rondo’s wild ride of a first — only? — season in Chicago hit its highest profile moment on Jan. 26. That’s when he posted a near-legendary Instagram post supporting young teammates that Dwyane Wade and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Butler had excoriated the night before after a late collapse to the Hawks.
Management fined Wade, Butler and Rondo. But a Jan. 27 team meeting allowed everyone to vent simmering frustrations and cemented Rondo’s status as veteran mentor.
“It was tension,” rookie Denzel Valentine said of the mood at the Jan. 26 practice, hours before Rondo’s social media post. “I was just chilling on the couch watching a game or something and I go on Instagram and I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ But I think Jimmy and D-Wade and Rondo’s relationship strengthened because of that.
“That’s an odd way of saying it because you would think they would grow apart. But I think it helped us out. From that point on, we hit our stride to make the playoffs.
“Rondo was going to stand up for what he felt was right. I respect him a lot for that. He already has a bad rep in this league. For him to go out and do that and put himself on the line, that shows his true character to me and how much of a leader and a people person he is. He cares about his teammates that much.”
Indeed, Nikola Mirotic earlier this season called Rondo his favorite teammate along with Pau Gasol. After Friday’s season-ending loss, Fred Hoiberg said he loved coaching Rondo and credited him with the “exciting, fun” style the Bulls used to go 7-2 down the stretch to secure a playoff berth.
None of this could have been imagined when Hoiberg moved Rondo, who rescheduled his exit meeting for a family matter, from starting to benching for a five-game stretch around the New Year. Rondo, who drew a one-game team suspension for throwing a towel in associate head coach Jim Boylen’s face Dec. 3, revealed Hoiberg told him he looked slow defensively and then met with management with unsatisfactory results.
But Rondo’s season resurrected first as the leader of the second unit comprised mostly of younger players. And his re-insertion into the starting lineup March 13 re-energized the season.
His strong play fueled a 2-0 lead over the Celtics in the playoffs. His fractured thumb factored significantly in the subsequent collapse.
“I definitely became a fan of Rajon as the season went on. It’s always good to have another coach on the floor,” Wade said. “I know everyone can point to a guy’s limitations. But he was great with the young guys. He was great with understanding how to handle me and Jimmy.
“He had a great season, and I think around the league, people need to understand that. This is a guy who can help you and help your team win if you allow him to be who he is.”