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Why Rajon Rondo might be a great fit in Chicago

Sam Smith thinks a motivated Rondo might be an 'ideal' fit with the Bulls

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By Sam Smith | 7.25.2016 | 11:40 a.m.

USA Basketball with Jimmy Butler arrive in Chicago this week for two days of training and an exhibition game Friday in the United Center against Venezuela.

It’s the USA’s latest dreams for a team, the hope for a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next month.

In a sense, the Bulls have been in the process of unveiling their own team they hope will fulfill some of their dreams, or at least wishes for a successful season.

Dwyane Wade is expected to meet with Chicago media earlier Friday.

That comes about three weeks after Rajon Rondo, the Bulls other new former NBA champion and All-Star, met with reporters, one third of the Bulls triumvirate of current and former All Stars with Butler who hope to push back into contention in the Eastern Conference.

While Wade is the big name, Rondo, to some, is the big question mark.

But his recent interviews with Chicago media and workouts with the Bulls summer league team in Las Vegas and TV appearances in Los Angeles at the time of the ESPY awards suggests perhaps a friendlier exclamation point from the sometimes mercurial point guard.

“A lot is perception,” Rondo said about his reputation. “You make the bed, you lay in it. As you get to know me, we'll see from there. I think I have a clean slate (with the Bulls) and I'm just as thrilled to be here. You can consider me stubborn, but I think I'm really intelligent. I don't BS around. I put a lot of work in, I watch film. I study. People may knock it, but I think it's what makes me great. I talk to a lot of older players and players I have respect for and they don't consider it a knock. I talk to older coaches as well. People have always doubted me, and this is day one. We'll see.”

Rondo backed up that point working with the summer league team, rare for veteran pros, though Rondo said it’s a regular habit for him.

Could it be a man who merely has been serious about his job and intense has been viewed through the lense of others’ perceptions?

When Rondo had his press conference in Chicago, he smiled. Once, I recall. But he always was direct, forthcoming, candid and unequivocal, bristling just once. And not when someone actually asked about whether he was a head case. He never once sought to bite the head off a live chicken, or media member.

No one is what that seem, and few are how they have been depicted or perceived.

The Bulls may just have come up with a gem that has looked to many like a lump of coal.

Rondo’s credentials are unchallenged as an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics, four-time All-Star and all-defensive player, three-time league assists leader including last season with the Sacramento Kings. Yet, he didn’t get a long term contract offer in free agency in this summer of NBA money madness. His deal with the Bulls can be terminated after a season.

Because there’s also the Rondo who had ACL surgery in 2012 and sat out a full year, who after being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in late 2014 was suspended by the team and suspended by the league for homophobic slurs against an official last season and not asked back by the Kings even after leading the league in assists.

But those who know Rondo also will tell you he’s often more serious and analytical about the game than some teammates or coaches, and is someone who isn’t afraid to say so. He’s not a guy in trouble off the court. Intensity seems worth a look.

“I think I'm coming off one of my best seasons,” said Rondo. “I didn't miss any games as far as injuries. I feel great. Dwyane's been doing the same. We're a little bit older in age, but I think that's wiser. I've talked to Wade. I think we'll be a very talented team, a very versatile team, especially at the guard position. To play with a guy like that, that I've battled against personally, it's always great to have a guy like that on your side.”

It’s been a roller coaster last month for the Bulls in trading Derrick Rose, losing Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in free agency, looking like maybe a 25-win team after the draft and then making the moves that included sending Mike Dunleavy to Cleveland and E’Twaun Moore leaving. The summer league team with Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio and Jerian Grant was strong and with the acquisitions of Wade and Rondo, the Bulls did not give up any young players or draft picks and retain the same financial flexibility for the upcoming summers for free agents. Why not compete while you are again developing your roster? With Wade, Rondo and Butler, the Bulls have as compelling a team to watch in the East as any.

In effect, the Bulls traded Rose for Robin Lopez, Grant and Rondo, and Jose Calderon and Dunleavy for Wade.

Rondo was selected 21st in the 2006 draft out of the U. of Kentucky by Phoenix and dealt to Boston for mostly cash and a draft pick. He backed up Sebastian Telfair as a rookie and then got the starting job in 2007 as the Celtics won the NBA title and even Phil Jackson said Rondo was the dominant figure in the closing game.

Rondo became an elite NBA point guard primarily as a facilitator, though with a backdrop of so called clashes with teammates and coaches. So Rondo can be is a bit of an acquired taste, though mostly because he’s never been one to accept the demands of fools, some of whom have been NBA players or coaches.

“We have three alphas on the team,” Rondo acknowledged forthrightly about he, Wade and Butler. “The main thing is trying to mesh together and sacrifice and just trying to do what's best for the team. Sacrifice for one another and whatever we do is for the greater of the team. Obviously, I think it's Jimmy's team. Jimmy's the youngest, the engine here. It'll be Jimmy, Wade, and then it will be a pecking order. What makes me confident (it can work) is what I've been through, what I've seen, what I've witnessed. I think everything in life you go through is for a reason. For me, playing in Boston, playing with the Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce), I was able to see how those guys interacted with one another. Knowing that everything doesn't have to be perfect in practice. You're going to disagree, but if you all have one common goal at the end of the day and that's to get a W, that's all that matters. Egos go out the window and we all have one common goal.”

There’s an historic view of the coach/player relationship, or with veteran teammates. It’s more submission where the coach tells you what to do and you do it without hesitation. Rondo never has had an issue with that. He’s just someone who wants to know why given the circumstances, and if you cannot give him a good answer he may not go along. Same with teammates no matter their reputations.

In many ways, he’s like Joakim Noah was when coming to the Bulls. He was more serious about the game than many of his veteran teammates. So he told them so. They asked for him to be suspended.

“My first nine years in Boston, Doc (Rivers) and I had a great relationship where at times he wanted to call a certain play and we did that,” explained Rondo. “And there was times when he gave me a lot of freedom and allowed me to grow into the player I am today.”

Which meant Rondo knew Doc had made a mistake and told him so.

Just because you are the player doesn’t mean you don’t know as much. I’ve disliked this trend in recent decades in which managers call pitches, coaches call all the plays for quarterbacks and in the NBA coaches signal everything. Many who never have played. I prefer the leader on the court, and it seems Rondo has often as well.

Sometimes the boss doesn’t like that.

Which is why Hoiberg may be an ideal coach for Rondo. Hoiberg isn’t driven by protecting an ego or threatened by someone else’s knowledge. He’s as comfortable in his own skin as any NBA coach this side of Gregg Popovich. This may be a better team for Hoiberg than last season, one that can make decisions on its own. Hoiberg asked last year’s group to do so and they kept turning to look for plays.

“He’s not an egotistical coach,” Rondo noted of Hoiberg. “He likes for his guys to have input. When he asks my input, I’ll obviously share. We’ll go in his office and watch some film and figure out what’s best for the team.”

Fred doesn’t like to yell; and Rondo doesn’t like to be yelled at.

They may just be a beautiful couple.

“I think for me, all the pieces fit as far as the style of coach I want to play for, the type of organization, class A, and then the personnel that you have on the court,” said Rondo. “For me as a player, the position I play is the point guard position, to be surrounded by so many great shooters (Nikola Mirotic, McDermott, Valentine with the summer league game winning three) and an offense like coach Hoiberg's trying to run, I think it will go well together. It's more of a read based offense. It's not so much dictated on calling a set every time down the floor. I like to make my plays off reactions. I try to be two or three steps ahead of my guy, my opponent. So it's a perfect system to try to be great in."

"I know how to spread the ball around, I know how to keep guys happy, I think it's what I do best,” said Rondo. “It doesn't show up in the stat sheet, but knowing the game, knowing when to get guys shots, putting them in the best position to be successful. I'm not filling (Rose’s) shoes; it's a completely different team. Derrick and I are different players. I've had a lot of respect for Derrick, I'm gonna come in and be Rajon Rondo.

“I’m a true believer that hard work pays off,” said Rondo, who worked extensively with Bulls coaches even after summer league practices in Las Vegas. “I try to stay out of the media. I had one hiccup (with the official). But I stay low and kept my nose into the gym. I went from home to the gym as much as possible and just focused on basketball. If you play as hard as possible, anybody can win. That’s why you play. It’s a matter of how quickly we can get on the same page. If we can buy into what the system is and what coach wants from us as a team, that’s when we’ll peak.”