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.