With Rajon Rondo sidelined indefinitely, more pressure shifts to Jimmy Butler, Jerian Grant for Game 3

With Rajon Rondo sidelined indefinitely, more pressure shifts to Jimmy Butler, Jerian Grant for Game 3

The consistent theme in this Bulls season has been the presence of adversity, so with the team on the doorstep of an improbable outcome, Rajon Rondo's broken thumb seems to be par for a treacherous course.

Rondo will miss Game 3 and quite possibly the rest of the Bulls' first-round series against the Boston Celtics with the injury that puts his season and the Bulls' chances moving forward in these playoffs in jeopardy.

Should the Bulls advance to the second round, one would think it would increase the chance of a Rondo return, but a broken thumb is pretty severe and Rondo was already playing on an injured right wrist — his shooting hand.

Rondo dominated Game 2 with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in 40 minutes and is averaging a near triple-double in the first two games this series, with 8.5 rebounds to go with 11.5 points and 10 assists.

He didn't appear to show any ill effects at Thursday's practice but had his hand wrapped after his press conference following Game 2, a source told CSNChicago.com.

"When I saw him at practice I knew something was up. I was hoping it wasn't that," Jimmy Butler said. "But it's tough when any of your soldiers go down, man. Especially someone who wants to win as bad as he does, that studies the game and wants to do well by everybody like he does. It's definitely a loss for all of us. But damn. I mean, we wish we had him, but we don't. There's not too much more to say about it."

The Bulls found out the news late Thursday night and issued a statement shortly before letting the media into the morning shootaround, as Rondo was not present.

"It happened sometime in the third quarter," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "It sounds like he was swiping up for the ball. He either hit the ball or (Kelly) Olynyk's elbow and that's where the fracture occurred.

"It shows the toughness of Rajon Rondo to continue to fight through and battle and play pretty much the rest of that game. Last night, you could tell in talking to him that something wasn't right. Everybody who plays this game jams fingers and thumbs all the time. But he said this one was a little different. So to get the news last night was very tough."

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

And it seemed as if the team knew it at the morning shootaround at the United Center, hours before taking the floor against a Celtics team that could suddenly have new life if it believes Rondo was the top reason for all the disruption in the first two games.

"Yeah, we're down one of our soldiers," Butler said. "But (Rondo) wouldn't be in here moping around. (Rondo) would be like, 'Yo, let's go.' That's what you have to do. We can't feel bad for ourselves now that one of our best players is gone. It's some big shoes to fill, but we've got to have it happen."

After all, seeing Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams doesn't inspire the same fear as "Playoff Rondo." Butler spoke in hushed tones about "Do" (sounds like "dough"), and it's hard to see how his absence won't affect this team's spirit.

"I didn't see that. I saw a group of guys who came in here with a lot of focus and were locked into the film session that we had and walkthrough we had on the floor," Hoiberg said. "You have to stay positive throughout this. Guys have confidence in Jerian and Michael."

Butler will likely shift over to take more ball-handling responsibilities, as he's done so much of in the regular season, but he'll also have to do a lion's share of guarding Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, whom Rondo has defended well with his length and physicality.

Grant will start, but Butler will be the main facilitator.

"We're going to miss him, the pace that he sets for the team, the leadership that he brings, and the way that he plays," Butler said. "We've still got to go out there. We're expected to win. We know what we're capable of. I guess we're doing this for him now.

"Without him it will be a little bit tougher, but everybody counted us out before anyway, so I think we'll be OK. I like the way we're playing. Everyone knows what's at stake, what we have to do. We're mixing it up, unfortunately, but I think they're ready."

Is #TheReturn getting a reboot? Report says there's a possibility Derrick Rose comes back to Bulls

derrick_rose_0719.jpg
USA TODAY

Is #TheReturn getting a reboot? Report says there's a possibility Derrick Rose comes back to Bulls

Is there another episode of #TheReturn brewing?

The Bulls just departed with Derrick Rose last offseason, but he might be considering a return to his hometown, per a Thursday afternoon report.

Rose had been linked in previous reports to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a return to the Bulls would be downright nuts.

Rose spent the first eight years of his NBA career with the Bulls, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, a three-time All Star and the youngest MVP in league history back in 2010-11.

While big-time injuries derailed his career in Chicago, the Bulls don't have much in the way of a proven point guard.

Remember, too, that Rose attended a Bulls playoff game at the United Center earlier this year.

Last season with the New York Knicks, Rose played in 64 games, averaging 18 points and 4.4 assists per game. That scoring average was the fourth highest of his career.

Of course, the possibility of Rose coming home is just found in one report, with a couple others dispelling the notion of a reunion.

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

cameronpayne.png
AP

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

When your team is no longer in playoff contention it's always a good time to look forward. The Bulls finally have a direction after trading Jimmy Butler on draft night and will go to a youth movement to build the talent pool back up. And with free agency pretty much wrapped up (although Derrick Rose is making noise) it's time to look at where Fred Hoiberg's group stands among the teams looking for the most ping-pong balls on Lottery night next May.

The numbers in parentheses are the projected over-under win totals in Las Vegas:

Brooklyn Nets (20.5 wins)

The good news? Brooklyn had an excellent offseason. The bad news? It's going to take way more than one good string of moves to fix this mess. In dealing Brook Lopez and a first-round pick for D'Angelo Russell, the Nets gave away their best player for one with a bright future. Drafting Jarrett Allen was another solid move, but he's barely 19 and is more of a project than anything right now. Taking on DeMarre Carroll's and Timofey Mozgov's contracts provide them more talent, but neither should get much playing time during the youth movement. It may be tough for this team to get to 20 wins.

Phoenix Suns (25.5 wins)

There might not be a better young core in the Western Conference than in Phoenix. With Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson (all lottery picks) leading the way, there's optimism about the Suns' future. It just might not lead to many victories in 2017-18. Bender is 19 and the others are 20, and veterans Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler are prime trade candidates. Phoenix is going somewhere, but expect them to pick in the top 3 a year from now.

Chicago Bulls (28.5 wins)

It's difficult right now to project how many wins the Bulls will tally. Restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic is still unsigned, and there are questions about whether Dwyane Wade will be bought out at some point during the season. Zach LaVine's timetable on returning from ACL surgery is still unknown, and the Bulls will take a cautious approach in bringing him back. Robin Lopez could also be dealt at some point. The young guns are going to get all the run they can handle, helping the rebuild while not doing much in the win department.

Sacramento Kings (30.5 wins)

The Kings went 8-17 after dealing DeMarcus Cousins, which projects to a 26-win season over an 82-game span. The good news is Scott Perry made this roster a whole lot better before leaving for the Knicks. Drafting De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III, and signing George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph has this roster looking as deep as it's been in quite some time. They're in the West, which makes things more difficult, but they're a good bet to make serious improvement in 2017.

Indiana Pacers (31.5 wins)

Like the Bulls, the Pacers began their rebuilding phase after dealing a star in Paul George. Indiana grabbed an established two-way guard in Victor Oladipo (25 years old) and 21-year-old Domantas Sabonis, Potential trade candidates are Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic. Myles Turner is a budding star, while young players in T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu and Glenn Robinson III will get plenty of playing time. Those four matchups against the Bulls could loom large as far as the Lottery balls are concerned.

Los Angeles Lakers (32.5 wins)

It looks like the Lakers hit on both their first-round draft picks, as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma had monster Summer Leagues. Add Brook Lopez, who was outstanding last season, to a talented young core and it appears the Lakers are trending in the right direction. It wouldn't be surprising to see Los Angeles compete for a playoff spot. Plus, the Lakers have no incentive to tank, as their first-round pick in 2018 will go to Philadelphia or Boston. Expect them to move past the Bulls in the win total.

New York Knicks (32.5 wins)

Not sure about this one. It still seems there's a good chance Carmelo Anthony gets dealt, and depending on what they get back in a deal their second best player (behind Kristaps Porzingis) will be $71 million man Tim Hardaway Jr. They won 31 games a year ago, and it's hard to imagine they're better without Anthony, regardless of how inefficient he's become.

Atlanta Hawks (34.5 wins)

No team in the league took a bigger hit from where they were a year ago to now than the Hawks. After winning 43 wins and earning the No. 5 seed in the East, Atlanta lost Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. to free agency and traded Dwight Howard. Essentially it's Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and a ton of question marks. Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry and rookie John Collins are a good core, but this is going to be an ugly season in the ATL.

Dallas Mavericks (34.5 wins)

We'll go ahead and assume restricted free agent Nerlens Noel returns. So, too, is Dirk Nowitzki back for another year, and the Mavs look like they have a steal in rookie Dennis Smith Jr. They've entered a rebuild, which owner Mark Cuban admitted, but their talent across the board might be enough to get them to the 33 wins they had a year ago. Playing in the West makes it more difficult to project, but they should tally more wins than the Bulls simply on their talent pool.

Orlando Magic (34.5 wins)

This Las Vegas win total is a little confusing. Orlando made nice moves in the offseason, drafting Jonathan Isaac and signing Jonathon Simmons. But that's about it, and the Magic were lucky to win 29 games a year ago. True, they're in a depleted Eastern Conference but it's hard to see Frank Vogel turning around the franchise this quickly. That being said, their young players (Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon) have NBA experience, so maybe they make a jump and it results in wins.