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.