Rajon Rondo was back in the Bulls rotation Tuesday with Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic out with flu and Dwyane Wade resting on a back to back. The Bulls started Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant, Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, and had Rondo first off the bench.
Rondo was benched the last five games after sitting out the second half against Indiana December 30 following a poor first half. Rondo said coach Fred Hoiberg approached him earlier Tuesday and said he’d play against Washington.
“Just waiting to see,” Rondo said during an often light hearted 10-minute session with media members before the game in which at one point Rondo waved off an offer to stop speaking and said he wanted to continue to keep talking because he hasn’t had much attention lately.
Rondo throughout the benching after being one of the starters and so called Three Alphas to start the season has been professional, supportive of teammates and continuing to be a positive teammate. He went to a D-league game to support Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser, has been watching game film late into the night even when not playing, has been working out at a gym in Maywood nights to stay in shape and get pickup games with Bulls players resting and has been a team favorite. He famously took the entire team and staff out for a pregame dinner and at Christmas time bought gifts for the support staff.
Though Rondo, at times, has gotten a reputation around the NBA for being difficult or disruptive, he’s been the opposite with the Bulls. He’s been a positive locker room presence, especially for young teammates, who rave about the help he’s been with talking to them about the game and helping them through troubling times.
Rondo entered Tuesday’s game with 6:31 left in the first quarter with the Bulls trailing 17-12 and scored on his first field goal attempt. He then penetrated and hit Taj Gibson for a three and livened up the Bulls young lineup to a 36-26 lead after the first quarter. In Rondo’s first run, he was plus-16.
“I had a gut feeling today. I had butterflies this morning,” Rondo said about playing, joking with some insouciance. “I thought, ‘You know what? Jimmy’s out, Wade’s out ... '"
“We’ll take it a day at a time,” Rondo said when asked about his future status with the team. “I know a little bit of what’s going on, but it’s out of my control, really, as far as what (is) going on. So I’m going to have to play better."
Rondo said he was told some minus-20 plus/minus ratings in halves he played before his benching was the reason for the extended stay out of the rotation.
“It’s a game of mistakes,” said Rondo. “You play through it. Cleveland, they told me I had a negative 20 in Indiana at halftime. I think that was part of the reason. (I was told it was to) save me from myself. I never heard that before. But I guess (they were) trying to do the best thing for me.
“When I signed here, why I wanted to come here, it’s a lot different than what I anticipated,” Rondo acknowledged, though he didn’t say he was bitter or angry. He mostly smiled at times through the interview and afterward thanked reporters for some of the questions.
Asked if it was a youth movement, Rondo turned and said, “You’ve got to ask them. They tell you guys that?’’
Someone said the subject was “danced around.”
“I’m going to go ahead and dance with them then,” Rondo said.
Rondo came into Tuesday's game averaging 7.2 points, 7.1 assists and 6.5 rebounds for the season.
“He (Hoiberg) said, ‘Be ready.’ That was it,” said Rondo. “There was a point of time in my career where I wasn’t even allowed to play. I couldn’t even walk. Getting a tear in my ACL in 2012 puts a lot of things in perspective about being able to play the game. I’ve been in it for 11 years. My perspective is completely different than it was four or five years ago. I’m able to handle it completely different now.
“They (media members) can drill me for the next four or five minutes,” Rondo said when there was a pause. “I haven’t had this much attention in awhile. I appreciate this.
“Playing for the Bulls, playing for big organizations, like Boston, you’re going to be judged from Day One,” said Rondo. “It’s part of it. You signed up for it. I don’t mind being judged or pressure being put on myself. People have been counting me out since Day One. That doesn’t matter about being in a box. It’s not a great feeling as a player to play like that. You’re only as good as your coach thinks you are. That’s a big part of each individual’s success in the NBA. You look at James Harden and the year he’s having. (Mike) D’Antoni turned over the keys to him and he’s having his best year ever with the right personnel around him. Certain guys got an opportunity to shine and play without restraint and certain guys will rise to the occasion. And some won’t. Just trying to get a win.”