Chicago Bulls

NBA Buzz: Rajon Rondo's rollercoaster ride

NBA Buzz: Rajon Rondo's rollercoaster ride

When Rajon Rondo dubbed the Bulls' new veteran trio of himself, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade the "3 Alphas" back in training camp, reporters around the country snickered. How could three ball-dominant perimeter players possibly co-exist? And, what would the relationship be like with Rondo and Wade after years of battling each other in the playoffs?

The early returns were encouraging with the Bulls breaking out of the gate with an 8-4 record, and the offense functioning at a high level. But then a December slump led to Rondo being benched, starting off with five straight games of DNP's-CD, and talk immediately surfaced of a possible contract buyout.

But the front office wanted to hang on to Rondo's contract as a possible trade chip, and the coaching staff eventually decided the veteran point guard could have value leading the second unit, imparting his wisdom to young players like Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Michael Carter-Williams, Paul Zipser and Cris Felicio. Through it all, Rondo kept a professional attitude, working on his game before and after practice hoping for more playing time.

Then came the infamous Wade-Butler locker room critique of some of the young players' desire to win after the Bulls blew a big fourth quarter lead at home against Atlanta on January 25, followed by Rondo's Instagram post calling out the lack of leadership from the Bulls' two stars. Again, speculation about a possible Rondo buyout came from the media, but the Bulls' front office kept him around, and Rondo eventually returned to the starting line-up on March 13, ironically after a blowout loss in Boston the day before in a nationally televised game.

Rondo responded with his best stretch of basketball in a Bulls' uniform, leading the team on a closing 7-3 run to grab the final playoff spot on the last day of the season.

Through the first two games of the Celtics' series, Rondo has found another gear. He played 40 minutes in Game 2, falling one rebound shy of a triple double while matching the Bulls' franchise playoff record of 14 assists.

CSN's Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wrote about a one hour meeting between Rondo, Wade and Butler before Game 2 that allowed the "3 Alphas" to go over strategy for that night's game. And Wade make it clear in the post-game interview room that he and Rondo are on the same page when asked about what he thought about Rondo during those Boston-Miami playoff battles.

"I hated him," Wade said. "Hated him competitively. Hated him is a respect. I told him tonight, 'way to control your team.'"

Wade and Rondo also shed some light on why the Bulls played so inconsistently throughout the regular season.

"You play the 82 games to learn about yourself," Wade said. "I learned about this team that through adverse situations, this team sticks together".

While Rondo told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, "This team was put together in a couple months with, I think, 10 new guys. It's hard to jell that quickly, especially if guys don't have the right mindset. Organizations have to give guys a little bit of time to grow and learn each other."

Or in Rondo's case, give him the freedom to run the offense and direct players on the court the way he has throughout his career. Maybe it took the turbulence of the 82 game rollercoaster ride for Wade and Butler to understand their best chance to win with the current roster is to let Rondo have the ball and make the right reads.

Whatever the reasons, the Bulls are playing their best basketball of the season right now, and have the top seeded Celtics on the ropes. And they wouldn't be doing it if the "3 Alphas" hadn't come to a meeting of the minds.

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Rondo's late season play might just convince the front office to pick up the veteran guard's option for next season, especially considering neither Jerian Grant or Cameron Payne appear to be ready to be the full-time starters.

But there will be a lot of moving parts when the front office starts to piece together the 2017-18 roster. Will Wade accept his 23.8 million dollar player option, and if he does, would he want the freedom to try to recruit his good friend Chris Paul or Toronto All-Star guard Kyle Lowry in free agency. If the Bulls bring Rondo back, they'll be far short of the cap room required to sign an elite free agent.

Another interesting thing to watch will be the Chris Bosh situation in Miami. The Heat are expected to pursue salary cap relief with the league since Bosh's blood clot issue is considered to be a career-ending situation. Bosh told Larry King in a recent interview he still would like to play basketball again, and it's possible he could be interested in teaming up with his good friend Wade in Chicago. Since Bosh will already be collecting his full salary from the Heat, any team interested in bringing him in could probably get a contract done for the veterans' minimum.

If the Bulls decide not to re-sign restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, they could be in the market for a power forward. Whether Bosh is healthy enough to play again is a total unknown, but the Bulls could be the team to give him a chance.

In case you missed it on Tuesday, the Bulls lost a tiebreaker with Portland, so they'll pick 16th in round one of the NBA Draft on June 22nd. If Wade and Rondo are back, the Bulls are pretty well set at the perimeter positons with those two players, plus Butler, Grant, Payne, Zipser and Denzel Valentine, and the center spot is covered with Robin Lopez and either Felicio or Joffrey Lauvergne.

So, the Bulls truly should be thinking best player available, and as I wrote previously, maybe take a shot at Indiana's O.G. Anunoby, who was considered a sure lottery pick before suffering a knee injury last season. Anunoby could be a Butler-type defender on the perimeter, with the potential of developing his offensive game as a pro.

Otherwise, the Bulls could consider a number of developmental bigs like Wake Forest's John Collins, Texas' Jarrett Allen, Creighton's Justin Patton, Kentucky's Bam Adebayo or Cal's Ivan Rabb.

Looking around the NBA playoffs, it's already clear Golden State will be tough to beat. Kevin Durant looks to be 100 percent recovered from that late season knee sprain and the Warriors' array of offensive weapons is unmatched around the league.

A potential second round series between Houston and San Antonio would be fascinating to watch. The Rockets' three-point attack against the Spurs tried and true system offense. Kawhi Leonard is showing the country why he's one of the top eight players in the NBA, but can San Antonio find a way to slow down James Harden and all of those Houston three-point shooters? One thing we've learned over the years, never underestimate the ability of Gregg Popovich to come up with a winning game plan.

Over in the East, the Bulls' dismantling of the Celtics has been by far the number one story, but how about Milwaukee giving the Raptors all they could handle while splitting the first two games in Toronto. Even without injured forward Jabari Parker, the Bucks showed off their youth and athleticism. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a nightmare match-up, and he's been even more aggressive offensively than we saw during his breakout regular season.

Milwaukee again hit big in the draft with young big man Thon Maker and second round point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who might just wind up being the Rookie of the Year. Veteran Greg Monroe wasn't all that thrilled about being asked to come off the bench, but he's been a productive scorer against Toronto. Jason Kidd has a nice mix of veterans and exciting young players. It's hard to say whether Milwaukee can take out the more experienced Raptors in the first round, but NBA coaches and general managers have already found out the Bucks' slogan "Fear the Deer" is no joke.

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

Doug Collins made it clear, that his return to the Bulls organization won’t result in a return to the sidelines as head coach, meaning Fred Hoiberg has nothing to worry about in the way of looking over his shoulder.

What Collins did admit, though, is he’s back with the Bulls to provoke thought. Anyone who’s listened to Collins as a broadcaster for ESPN or Turner Sports, or talked to him in any basketball capacity, knows he’s not only a hoops lifer but also someone who can have strong opinions, capable of quick dissection of a complex picture in a moment’s notice.

“I’m not here to be a decision-maker. I want to provoke thought. My mind is very active,” Collins said Tuesday afternoon at the Advocate Center. “And I think to get into a room and to bounce ideas off each other or whatever, at the end of the day, Gar, Michael, Jerry, Pax will make those decisions. The beauty of it is is that when there’s a level of trust when you’re talking about things, you can speak openly and honestly with people knowing the only thing that matters is that whatever happens is the best for the franchise.”

Announcing Collins as a senior advisor to executive vice president John Paxson adds another voice to the Bulls’ braintrust and is probably an admission this rebuild will require more than what the Bulls already have, be it in terms of connections, observation and even innovation.

Collins’ connection to Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf, a growing relationship with Michael Reinsdorf and ability to relate with Hoiberg due to the misery of coaching should align a front office to the floor in ways that has been in doubt for the past several seasons.

“Given Jerry's relationship and my relationship with Doug over the years, we thought, hey, let's see if maybe this isn't a good time for Doug to come back into the fold,” Paxson said. “So we approached him and it was very casual, no expectations other than he's been a friend of ours for so long. But the more we kind of dug into the prospects of this and what it means, the more we kept asking ourselves, why wouldn't we do this?”

Collins made it clear he won’t be giving up his family life, as he already has residence in Chicago and his son Chris is coaching Northwestern and a son-in-law coaching a high school team outside Philadelphia.

“The hours and the time commitment that Fred Hoiberg puts in on a day and the energy that he spends and being on the road and being away from his family,” Collins said. “(This) worked perfectly in my schedule when I talked to Pax that I could be a part of something special, the Chicago Bulls, and I love the Chicago Bulls.”

His energy and passion can light up a room, and though he tried his best to say that’s died down at age 66, claiming “I can sit and do a crossword puzzle for three hours now”, people wired like Collins don’t lose their fervor for the game.

“I think there’s this feeling that I’m a guy who’s always on and fired up,” Collins said.

But that fire and passion and presumably a willingness to be uncompromising with the truth should be something that’s welcome inside the Advocate Center. In addition to his acumen, one of Collins’ greatest strengths is his fervor, and it shouldn’t be scaled back.

That’s not how rebuilds work successfully. Lines have to be crossed and people have to be made uncomfortable in their line of thinking, even if it’s Paxson or Hoiberg or general manager Gar Forman.

It’s not hard to see the Bulls following the thinking of the Golden State Warriors when they added Jerry West in an advisory role years ago, resulting in several key moves being made, most notably West’s objection to Klay Thompson being traded to Minnesota for Kevin Love before Love was eventually moved to Cleveland.

West’s guidance played a part in the Warriors’ upward trajectory to championship status, and he hopes to have a similar affect with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Comparing West with Collins on its face is a bit unfair, considering West’s experience as an executive and championship pedigree dating back to his days with the Lakers.

At least with West, he’s not trying to convince anyone he isn’t anything but a tortured basketball soul at age 79. Collins reminded everyone he’s a grandfather of five and at a spry 66, West would call Collins a “spring chicken.”

What Collins can bring is a keen eye for observation, and expecting him to be a passive personality doesn’t quite seem right, especially leaving the cushy job at ESPN that allowed him maximum exposure and a schedule to his liking.

Perhaps the way Collins left the NBA, with a massive gambit in Philadelphia falling flat when Andrew Bynum’s knees rendered him useless and sending the 76ers franchise into “The Process,” left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

Maybe his competitive juices got him going again and the broadcast booth just wasn’t cutting it, along with having a front seat to the injury that changed the course of the Bulls franchise when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012 against Collins’ 76ers.

Maybe the crossword puzzles just couldn’t get it done anymore. After all, the man once cried on the sidelines as his Detroit Pistons beat the Bulls in a regular-season game in 1997. Curbing that passion would be a disservice.

“See how things quickly change? The NBA is cyclical now,” Collins said. “Other than the San Antonio Spurs, over the last 20 years, every elite franchise has gone through this moment. And so now what you got to do, you got to dig yourself back up.

“We got to start doing all the things that are necessary to gain assets day by day, to put all the work, so we’re going to give ourself a chance, when we continue to get better players and more talent, that you’re going to win more basketball games.”

Collins said he has old-school values, all while being caught up with the times that he called himself “woke” as a nod to the current culture.

If he truly is, we’ll also find out who’s asleep in the front office, in desperate need a loud wake-up call.

Bulls Talk Podcast: What impact will Doug Collins have on the Bulls front office?

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: What impact will Doug Collins have on the Bulls front office?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue react to Doug Collins joining the Bulls front office.

The trio give their opinion on if it’s a good move for the team and what kind of impact they expect Collins to have.

Plus, they share when they expect Dwyane Wade and the Bulls to part ways—and if it’s a lock Wade ends up in Cleveland. And you don’t want to miss Kendall explaining to Will what ‘woke’ means.

Listen to the latest Bulls Talk Podcast right here: