Chicago Bulls

NBA Buzz: Could Rajon Rondo return to the Bulls next season?

NBA Buzz: Could Rajon Rondo return to the Bulls next season?

When the Bulls signed Rajon Rondo last July to a two-year contract with a team option and a small buyout for 2017-18, the odds of Rondo being in a Bulls uniform for that second year never looked very good.

The original plan called for Rondo to serve as a coach on the floor for a young, rebuilding Bulls team. When Rondo came in for his free-agent visit on July 1, Fred Hoiberg talked about putting the ball in his hands and giving him a lot of latitude in making play calls and distributing the ball to teammates in spots where they could be most effective.

But that all changed when 12-time All Star Dwyane Wade fell into the Bulls' laps after his negotiations for a new contract in Miami fell apart. Adding the 34-year-old Wade put two ball-dominant players in the lineup alongside Rondo, and after some early success, the Bulls' half-court offense got bogged down with poor floor spacing and too many isolation plays.

Rondo was taken out of the starting lineup in late December and fell completely out of the rotation. At that point, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Bulls bought him out of the rest of his contract.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Rondo's farewell. The Bulls decided to keep him on the roster in case his $14 million salary-cap number would be useful in a trade. And after watching Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams fail to establish themselves as the starting point guard, Hoiberg eventually returned Rondo to the rotation as the backup, using him to push the pace with a second unit made up of young players like Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine and Cris Felicio.

Rondo never thought he would get a chance to become a starter again, but after an embarrassing loss in Boston on March 12, Hoiberg made the move to try to inject some pace into a stagnant offense. The results have been better than anyone expected, with Rondo playing much more aggressively on the offensive end and working well with Jimmy Butler.

Since Wade went out with an elbow injury on March 15, Rondo has been playing his best basketball of the season, averaging right around 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Unfortunately, Rondo injured his right wrist in Tuesday's loss in New York and his status for the rest of the week is up in the air.

So assuming the Bulls make the playoffs with Rondo excelling as the floor general, is there now a scenario where the 31-year-old point guard returns to Chicago next season?

No matter which direction the front office decides to go with the roster, it seems unlikely. If John Paxson and Gar Forman keep Butler and Wade as the headliners, they'll probably need Rondo's cap space ($13.397 million) to try to add another veteran to the roster who will be a better fit with the Bulls' leading scorers.

And if Butler is traded during the offseason, will the Bulls really want Rondo around taking minutes from young point guards Cameron Payne and Grant? The short answer is no.

The long answer is both Payne and Grant are under team control for two more seasons on rookie scale contracts and the front office has a lot invested in Payne after sending Taj Gibson and McDermott to Oklahoma City to acquire his services. They also would like to see Grant develop into a consistent rotation player after bringing him over in the Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks.

So appreciate Rondo's veteran pride and work ethic in coming back from exile to help lead the Bulls' playoff push. But economic and roster realities most likely mean his NBA odyssey will continue in a fifth city next season.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

What's next for Derrick Rose?

Speaking of veteran point guards looking for a new home next season, it will be interesting to see what kind of free-agent market develops for Derrick Rose. We learned over the weekend Rose will need a fourth knee surgery to remove a torn meniscus in his left knee. That makes two surgeries on each knee for a player who turns 29 before next season begins.

Rose talked openly about landing a big free-agent contract as far back as Bulls Media Day in September 2015. But after the latest knee injury, Derrick will most likely have to settle for one guaranteed season and an option year at far less than his max contract value.

So which teams might be interested in Rose this offseason? Well, don't rule out a return to the Knicks. Even though Jeff Hornacek has indicated his team will be more reliant on the triangle offense next season, the Knicks have been starting undrafted rookie Ron Baker at the point, backed up by Chasson Randle. If the Knicks don't draft a point guard with their top-10 pick, they could consider bringing Rose back for one year, plus a team or player option.

Since point guard is probably the deepest position in the NBA, there aren't too many teams looking for a starter this offseason, and you know Rose won't sign with a team that would ask him to come off the bench. Forget about a return to Chicago, that ship has sailed. How about 90 miles to the north in Milwaukee? Might work for Rose, but the Bucks are probably comfortable going forward with second-round surprise Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova.

Looking at other NBA rosters, Rose might fit in rebuilding situations in Philadelphia or Sacramento, but would he be willing to go there? Rose works out in Los Angeles during the offseason, but neither the Lakers or the Clippers are likely in the market for a point guard, unless Chris Paul surprises everyone and leaves in free agency.

Rose could be a fall-back option in Toronto if Kyle Lowry leaves in free agency or in New Orleans if Jrue Holiday signs with another team. But the cold reality is Rose won't have a lot of great options coming off another knee surgery. And, who would have predicted Rose signing a contract for a lot less than long-time teammates Joakim Noah and Luol Deng (each getting four years and $72 million in free agency), as well as non-descript players like Timofey Mozgov, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and the aforementioned Dellavedova?

Russell Westbrook wrapping up MVP season

Can we go ahead and engrave that MVP trophy for Russell Westbrook now? As of this writing, Westbrook had just tied Oscar Robertson's seemingly unreachable total of 41 triple-doubles in a single season and will undoubtedly surpass the Big O over Oklahoma City's final five games. Westbrook also is a lock to average a triple-double for the season, matching Robertson's remarkable accomplishment from the 1961-62 campaign.

With all due respect for James Harden's remarkable year in Houston, Kawhi Leonard's ascension in San Antonio and LeBron James' all-around brilliance in Cleveland, Westbrook is having an historic season while almost single-handedly carrying the Thunder to the playoffs following Kevin Durant's free-agent departure.

Sure, leading a team to 50 wins has been almost a prerequisite for winning the MVP award, and Oklahoma City will fall short of that mark, but Westbrook's ability to maintain that level of play over an 82-game schedule is one of the most remarkable feats we've seen in any sport.

Stat of the week

As most Bulls fans know, Derrick Rose is the youngest player to win the MVP award, earning the honor at the age of 22 after leading the Bulls to an NBA-best 62 wins in the 2010-11 season. Unfortunately, one year later his career was derailed by the serious knee injury he suffered in Game 1 of an opening-round playoff series against Philadelphia.

CSN's stats whiz Chris Kamka put together this look at how Rose's three All-Star seasons compare to his numbers since the ACL injury in April 2012.

Clearly, Rose has never been the same player since that first knee injury, and it's painful for Bulls fans to think about what might have been had the hometown star been able to stay healthy.

Quote of the week

With Dwyane Wade's imminent return from the elbow injury he suffered on March 15, Bulls fans will once again get to hear Tommy Edwards' "from Chicago" introduction that Rose made famous. Question is, how healthy can Wade possibly be just three weeks removed from a chip fracture in his shooting elbow?

Wade's good friend Jimmy Butler had this to say after Wade scrimmaged with the team Wednesday in Philadelphia: "I see him out there playing basketball," Butler said. "It's good to see him out there, obviously. But I just want him to come back whenever he knows he can go 100 percent, not hold back."

And, as CSN's Vincent Goodwill is reporting, Wade's return will come Saturday night in Brooklyn. The 14-year veteran wants to contribute whatever he can to help the Bulls get to the playoffs in his homecoming season.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.