Ex-Cats

Rajon Rondo looks back on his turbulent Bulls season with no regrets

New Orleans Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo drives the lane against Chicago Bulls forward Cristiano Felicio (6) in the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.
New Orleans Pelicans guard Rajon Rondo drives the lane against Chicago Bulls forward Cristiano Felicio (6) in the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. AP

Rajon Rondo doesn’t fully share Dwyane Wade’s belief that the “Three Alphas” would’ve been retained and run back this season had Rondo not fractured his thumb and the Chicago Bulls had upset the Boston Celtics in last season’s playoffs.

“I thought they’d waive me from the jump,” the former University of Kentucky star said in his first remarks about leaving the Bulls. “That’s just my feeling and my intuition.”

On May 3, executive vice president John Paxson said “there’s a very good chance” the Bulls would pick up Rondo’s $13.4 million team option. On June 30, eight days after changing the franchise’s direction with the Jimmy Butler trade, the Bulls waived Rondo, whom they will pay $3 million this season.

“Especially the way the season ended, I don’t think you can say, ‘OK, now we’re going to get rid of Rondo,’” the veteran guard, now with the New Orleans Pelicans, said. “Management figures are smart. They know what to say at particular times.

“But you traded away one of the best players in the game on draft night. So you kind of know where that situation is going. I guess it’s what happens when you decide you’re not trying to win.”

Indeed, the Bulls completed their full-on rebuild by buying out Wade on the eve of training camp. By then, Rondo long had signed a one-year deal with the Pelicans.

The thumb that sidelined Rondo after he had dominated while leading the Bulls to a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics has healed. So has the torn ligament in his wrist.

“Six weeks healed it,” Rondo said. “I didn’t have surgery. I didn’t rehab it. I just wore a little sling to keep my finger from bending. It hasn’t given me any problems since.”

Time also has healed any wounds Rondo felt from being waived, at least with his public remarks.

Despite an extremely turbulent season in which he moved from starting to not playing at all to starting again, as well as a one-game suspension for throwing a towel in associate head coach Jim Boylen’s face, Rondo said he has no regrets about signing with the Bulls. He added he would’ve done so even if he had known Wade would follow, which was unexpected at the time of Rondo’s signing.

“It was a different season, but I learned a lot,” Rondo said. “It was the closest I’ve been to my family so I had a good opportunity there. I lived in a great city.

“What we were able to do the last 20 games to focus and lock in and make the playoffs with what we went through and the trades was good. We made a little bit of noise.”

One thing the Bulls endured was an emotional team meeting following Rondo’s legendary Instagram post, in which he indirectly criticized Wade and Butler by praising the veteran leadership of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from his time with the Celtics. The night before, Wade had specifically criticized young players following a late home collapse to the Hawks, while Butler followed with more general frustration.

“We’re good,” Rondo said of his relationship with Wade and Butler. “The post was obviously towards them but it was more so sticking up for the team. It wasn’t like a direct hit against those guys in my opinion. But it was what I felt at the time needed to be expressed.

“I had a dinner at the start of last season for the young guys because I was impressed with how hard they worked. I was in there every day and I saw Denzel (Valentine), Bobby (Portis) put in work every day. I felt somebody should stick up for them.”

In turn, those young players rallied around Rondo. Nikola Mirotic called Rondo his favorite teammate ever along with Pau Gasol.

“It’s great to have guys come out now and say what a great teammate I am. That’s one of the biggest compliments I can have,” Rondo said. “That’s what I pride myself on. I may not get along with every coach, but the guys know I’m going to fight for them.”

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