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Sam Smith on Rajon Rondo

Rondo says he is "without a doubt" still on the same page with his team

By Sam Smith

Rajon Rondo is just like you and me, or at least how you and me would like to be if we weren’t so conscious of how we were perceived by others, what our employers and family thought about our actions and what were the immediate ramifications of our behavior.

I suspect he’d be that way even if he wasn’t making $14 million and has been a four-time NBA All-Star and starter on a championship team.

It’s just that because he does and is, we are privy to it all and get to ask him about it.

Such was the situation Tuesday after the Bulls’ 102-91 loss to the Detroit Pistons when Rondo returned from a one-game suspension for an incident with an assistant coach during Saturday’s game in Dallas.

Not to suggest Rondo is irresponsible, inappropriate or unaware of the norms of civilized society.

It’s just that when Rajon Rondo perceives injustice, or at least his perspective about it, he’ll have something to say about it no matter how generally reticent everyone else might be.

Some folks speak; others speak up.

“Me, as a player, a point guard, I have to handle the situation better, but when I feel a certain way I am going to speak on it,” Rondo told reporters after Tuesday’s game in his first comments since the suspension. “My whole thing is always for the betterment of the team. So if it comes off the wrong way--and I’m trying to work on that--but for the most part I’m not a selfish individual. I try to do what’s best for the team. I try to watch film with teammates and help them as well, so that’s just part of the game, part of playing.”

Everyone has pretty much moved past this little agitation, and it actually is far less significant than the team’s current malaise, six losses in the last nine games, sliding down to being tied for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at 11-10.

But a little perspective on Rondo is perhaps helpful since he’s had his share of peccadillos in his actually pretty remarkable 11-year career, from an afterthought who couldn’t shoot to a star who still really can’t. There were the whispers in Boston about divisions with the so called Big Three, the playoff departure from Dallas, actually getting along with DeMarcus Cousins, all potentially troubling signs in one way or another.

So a breakdown, a distraction, was coming, many feared. And there it was. Rondo suspended! See, see.

It really didn’t seem like all that much, Rondo apparently not all that thrilled to be out of a game early that the Bulls were out of early as well. No one cared to discuss details, but it seemed like an opportunity for the team to get ahead of a potential issue, not that anything was imminent. But the Bulls haven’t always done that. So they took a stand, and it seemed the right thing to do.

So what was left was for Rondo to return Tuesday—he had 10 points and two assists in the loss—and explain. Is he really poison?

The locker room scene around sports is somewhat surreal. Players sit partially and very close to naked, walking in and out of showers, a towel wrapped around while perhaps a half dozen reporters stand idly by waiting for the procession of comments. Players peer into their phones like any teenager or presidential candidate at dinner. They share lotion bottles; someone invariably has forgotten his. And take turns speaking to media. Reporters hovered around Rondo, sitting with just a towel, making conversation with teammates and basically ignoring the circling (vultures?). Finally, Rondo gestured toward Jimmy Butler sitting next to him. “Talk to him first,” he seemed more to motion. Butler usually talks later among the players, after Dwyane Wade, but he understood what was going on.

So Butler went through the usual litany of loss explanations, poor defense, slow starts, yadda, yadda.

Rondo listening some leaned over to Isaiah Canaan next to him and said with a shrug, “Let’s get this over with.”

The first few questions were about the game, a media tactic to try to relax the player. Maybe he’ll turn to jelly and tell us everything.

Rondo doesn’t get much uptight, and he knows all the methods.

He, as we know, doesn’t much care for the media engagement, usually dismissing most questions with a short answer, then a stare down. As if saying, “That’s the best you can come up with?”

He really is well liked as a teammate, and players to a man defended him. I got the sense many would have liked to have said something similar some other time somewhere else. Like Michael Jordan used to say about Charles Barkley: He says what you are thinking.

Rondo is like that.

He doesn’t do it with quite the easy likeability and hard edged vulnerability that has made Barkley a TV superstar.

Rondo apologized to teammates, coaches and management in the wake of his blowup, and he and the assistant, Jim Boylen, were back working together at practice Monday and before Tuesday’s game. It was somewhat reminiscent of Joakim Noah’s famous verbal assault on then Bulls assistant Ron Adams that drew Noah a two game suspension, so abhorrent did the players find it they demanded the team raise the suspension from one to two games. Adams later had Christmas dinner with Noah and his family.

“Things happen,” Rondo said. “It’s part of it; try to move forward as a team. Me, personally, I addressed the team, addressed the coaching staff, trying to move forward. I can’t really go into detail; just part of the game.”

It did seem like that, an outburst regarding a competitive situation. We ask these young men to compete relentlessly, and then we condemn them for being unable to control their emotions? OK, there are ways. Sometimes it spills over. When it’s someone like Rondo, it becomes, “See, I warned you.”

“I have a good relationship with my team,” Rondo said. “I take pride in being a great teammate. Without a doubt I think we still are on the same page. When you lose things blow up a little out of proportion; when you win it covers everything up. So we have to get back to winning basketball. I don’t worry what they write. I’m OK with where I am in my life and what I bring to this team.”

Rondo answered evenly and actually did elaborate more than he usually does. He is comfortable with who he is even when it’s not exactly the norm others prefer. Which perhaps has enabled this 165-pound stick of a player with a sideways shooting touch to become an elite NBA player. Stubborness can work for you as well.

The questions continued from a few different directions, and not that Rondo objected, but he explained it’s not for him.

“I don’t really read the papers,” he said. “I don’t have Instagram or social media; whatever you guys write, good luck with your writing. But I’m going to continue to work as hard as I can to be the best player for this team and try to lead the right way.”

Actually, Rondo is a basketball junkie. That’s why he was at summer league working with guys going to Azerbaijan, why he’s always practicing late with the guys who play more in Hoffman Estates, why he’s forever watching basketball film.

“You guys can keep running the story if you want,” Rondo said as someone tried to explain they were just asking because he hadn’t said anything yet. “Tomorrow is a day off; got San Antonio, take care of home Thursday. As long as you guys keep it’s up, it’s going to continue.”

But you hadn’t said anything yet, someone else protested.

“I came to the gym yesterday, ya’ll didn’t see me,” Rondo said.

“I was off yesterday,” said one reporter.

“I was off yesterday, too,” cracked Rondo.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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