Benched Rajon Rondo says time with Bulls 'a lot different than what I anticipated'

Benched Rajon Rondo says time with Bulls 'a lot different than what I anticipated'

WASHINGTON, D.C.—If the Rajon Rondo benching was clear to some, it wasn’t to everybody even as Rondo prepares for a one-game exodus from the pine.

Namely Rondo himself, and one wonders where the saga is headed next as the Bulls near the midseason mark with no resolution to a situation involving their first free-agent signing.

“I don’t know,” said Rondo as the Bulls’ litany of absences have prompted them to turn back to his direction as they’ll play the Wizards Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

“I know a little bit of what’s going on, but it’s out of my control really, as far as what they have going on. So I’m going to have to play better.”

The Chicago experience hasn’t gone the way Rondo or the Bulls have expected. Rondo came off leading the league in assists in Sacramento last season and although his warts are well-known, he came to Chicago believing he would have autonomy and collaboration with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.

Instead, he’s shooting a career-low from the field (37 percent) while averaging 7.2 points, 7.1 assists and 6.5 rebounds in 30.2 minutes per game.

It almost feels like Rondo believes he was sold a dream—one that evaporated when Dwyane Wade came to town a week after the Bulls and Rondo came to terms. He wouldn’t outright say he was deceived but he definitely believed he would be able to have more control over games in terms of playcalling and asserting his basketball genius to the floor.

“Depends on how you guys write it. But yeah, it’s different,” Rondo said. “When I signed here, why I wanted to come here, it’s a lot different than what I anticipated.”

His apparent meeting with Bulls GM Gar Forman on Dec. 31 didn’t provide much clarity either, following a game in which he stated he felt he accomplished enough in the NBA to warrant a trade or release if the Bulls had no plans for him this season. 

And because Rondo is essentially a player on his third strike--with a rap sheet that went from his days in Boston to altercations with Rick Carlisle in Dallas when he was traded there a few years ago--he can't afford any real slip-ups with the Bulls in terms of his behavior or he'll find himself out of the league.

The Bulls know it, which is why they feel no rush to move him or buy him out.

And Rondo knows it, which is why he's keeping his calm about things as opposed to causing a scene.

"I’ve been in it for 11 years. And my perspective is completely different than it was four or five years ago," Rondo said. "I’m able to handle it completely different now."

What was clear was Rondo’s feeling that Hoiberg lost confidence in him in some way—be it his defense, lack of shooting or some other attribute for which no explanation has been given.

And Rondo feels like he hasn’t been given subsequent rope to play through his weaknesses.

“It’s not a great feeling as a player to play like that,” Rondo said. “You’re only as good as your coach thinks you are. That’s a big part of each individual’s success in the NBA.

“You look at James Harden and the year he’s having. D’Antoni turned over the keys to him and he’s having his best year ever with the right personnel around him. Certain guys got an opportunity to shine and play without restraint and certain guys will rise to the occasion. And some won’t.”

Whether Rondo believes he’s in the class of a player who’s averaging nearly 30 and 11 assists or not is hard to interpret. But the feeling of a lack of support is apparent and only in the case of a medical emergency are the Bulls calling on him.

Playing at Irving Middle School in Maywood since his banishment has been the only way to stay sharp during this 6.5-game absence from the lineup, but it changes for a night.

With Jimmy Butler out with illness, Nikola Mirotic catching it overnight and Wade out with a scheduled rest, the Bulls were forced to turn back to Rondo. The conversation between Rondo and Hoiberg was short, but not necessarily sweet.

“Just today. I was walking into the meeting, seeing him swinging his legs, and figured with a lot of people down today…” said Rondo before turning into some trademark sarcasm.

“Just waiting to see. I had a gut feeling today. I had butterflies this morning. I thought, ‘You know what? Jimmy’s out, Wade’s out … ‘’ No, I did have a gut feeling that maybe, maybe.”

Midway through his session with the media, Bulls media relations personnel tried to end it but Rondo made it clear he didn't mind the questioning and was affable and essentially pleasant during the near-10 minute meeting.

"I’m going to go ahead and dance with them (management) then," he replied when a media member said the Bulls have danced around giving an explanation for his benching.

His conversations with Hoiberg since his benching have been limited, and the Bulls haven’t been completely clear with why Rondo was benched, although his fit on this team has come into question with the lack of shooting and his up-and-down perimeter defense.

“Umm, how can I say this…? No,” said Rondo when asked about an explanation from Hoiberg.

Rondo did say a member of the coaching staff—a member he wouldn’t name—came to him to explain that he was being saved from himself in a basketball sense.

“Do I need saving from myself? In this game, you grind through it.,” Rondo said. “It’s a game of mistakes. You play through it. If not, . . .”

Subsequently, apparently, was his benching.
It started in the second half of the Dec. 30 game against the Indiana Pacers and he hasn’t seen the floor since.

“I don’t want to say any names,” Rondo said. “But that’s what the explanation was. (In) Cleveland, they told me I had a -20 in Indiana at halftime. I think that was part of the reason.”

Rondo’s thoughts on the explanation given were predictable.

“I thought it was bulls**t. You know.”

He repeated the phrase "save me from myself," a phrase that was presented to him one another time—the December 3rd Bulls-Mavericks matchup in Dallas where he got into it with associate coach Jim Boylen

“Save me from myself,” Rondo said. “I never heard that before in my life. But I guess (the assistant coach) was trying to do the best thing for me.”

As for he and his coach, he made clear the communication hasn’t been heavy.

“We speak. Cordial. Nothing much to say,” Rondo said.

Dwyane Wade tweets apology to fans after Bulls' lopsided loss in Atlanta

Dwyane Wade tweets apology to fans after Bulls' lopsided loss in Atlanta

For the opening three quarters in Atlanta, the Bulls were off. 

So off, in fact, that Dwyane Wade tweeted an apology to Chicago fans after the game. 

Thanks to a furious run by the Bulls' bench, the final score ended at a respectable 102-93. In reality, though, the Hawks dominated. 

Wade and company trailed by 29 points at half and 30 at the end of three. The 35-year-old shooting guard finished with a minus-18 and just four points while All-Star starter Jimmy Butler posted a team-low minus-22.

The Bulls will look to shake off their lopsided loss against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. 

 

Fred Hoiberg after Bulls' embarrassing loss to Hawks: 'We're gonna look at everything'

Fred Hoiberg after Bulls' embarrassing loss to Hawks: 'We're gonna look at everything'

The bus was warm before the game started, as the Bulls looked like they wanted no parts of the Atlanta Hawks.

It was evident from the jump that playing with a full and healthy squad for one of the few times this season wasn't enough to arouse their competitive juices, as they put together arguably their worst 48-minute showing in a 102-93 loss at Philips Arena, dropping them to 21-23 in a game they trailed by as many as 34 points.

The practices have apparently been the sterling jewel of effort and competitiveness for the Bulls but it hasn't carried over through the season as the inconsistency continues to be maddening — one that seems to go beyond the "growing pains" mantra that's been fed by all involved so far this year.

"It could be things but I don't want to share it with the media," a sunglasses-clad Dwyane Wade said outside the locker room, in a rare mood of not being elaborative following a loss.

It appears even the professional's professional has gotten a bit more frustrated than usual — understandable considering the way the starters came out with a lack of energy, with more turnovers (eight) than field goals (six) in the first quarter.

"Continue to try to lead behind the scenes," Wade said. "Can't stop when it's bad, when it's good. You gotta be the same."

Fred Hoiberg, fed up with the starters, ran with the reserves for the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by nearly 25 points, bringing the lead to 95-90 with a minute left before a Dennis Schroeder jumper restored order with 52.6 seconds left.

Four Hawks scored in double figures led by Schroeder's 25 points and six assists and Paul Millsap scoring 14 while making all four of his shots in just 22 minutes of run.

[MORE BULLS: Dwyane Wade not buying into the Bosh to Bulls speculation]

Perhaps it's the Hawks being the same kryptonite to the Bulls that the Bulls are to the Toronto Raptors — except the Bulls simply frustrate the Raptors, not embarrass them.

"I have been, we have been, tired of this. I gotta come out better," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 19 points in 29 minutes. "I gotta play better from the jump, 48 minutes. That's not the way we're supposed to play. 

"The way we practice is not the way we play in the game. Don't ask me why, I don't know. Starting with me and going down the line, we gotta be better as a whole. Otherwise we'll keep getting our asses beat and it's bad."

The Hawks shot over 60 percent for most of the night until the game devolved into what amounted to a pickup game late. After all, the Hawks seemed to be battling boredom by half, leading 65-36 and shooting 68 percent from the field and hitting 67 percent from three.

"We're gonna look at everything and we'll see how we go out and start tomorrow and a couple days after that, hopefully we figure some things out," Hoiberg said. "They shot over 70 percent in the first quarter and you dig yourselves a hole and it's impossible to get out."

Hoiberg said he would evaluate everything leading into Saturday's game at home against the Sacramento Kings, but Friday didn't seem to present any realistic lineup changes based on performance.

Bobby Portis scored 10 with seven rebounds off the bench, with Jerian Grant scoring 12 and Paul Zipser 10. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic combined to shoot two for nine, so one wonders where Hoiberg can go.

"I don't know. Practice is good. Practice is great," Butler said. "Practice is not gonna win you games. We gotta take what we do in practice and take it over to the game."

The Bulls weren't about to make it any more suspenseful than it had to be, as they started off missing their first 11 3-pointers, often missing multiple open looks on the same possession.

It wasn't relegated to just shooting as the Bulls squandered easy opportunities in easy situations, like Denzel Valentine turning a three-on-one fast break into an airballed finger-roll attempt that he caught himself — a violation, of course.

"I don't know, I can't put a word on it. Because it's just talk," Butler said. "Doesn't matter what you say, if we don't go out there and do it, what the hell is talking gonna do? We've been up and down all year. If we don't guard and turn the ball over, games get out of hand very quickly."

This one was over a few minutes into it, as the Bulls looked like a lifeless squad with no direction and very little fight, short of a minor dustup between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez in the third quarter.

At that point, though, all Howard had to do is point at the scoreboard, where a 30-point lead did all the necessary talking.

The Bulls trailed by 20 even before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 35-footer to end the first quarter, sending the Hawks off on a high and seemingly demoralizing the Bulls.

Even Butler's 19-point night, hitting six of his eight shots in 29 minutes, rang hollow. The Bulls could've trotted out a D-League team for the second half to gear up for Saturday's game against Sacramento and been better off than how they performed Friday night.

And for the Bulls, they can't simply just go back to the drawing board. There looks to be something fundamentally wrong with this bunch — either that, or the Atlanta night got the best of them Thursday.