Rajon Rondo is not Derrick Rose. Four organizations in two years is the Rondo resume. You can’t spin it into something it’s not. Rajon Rondo is in Chicago and before that he was in California and before that it was Dallas and before that…you get the point. His career is as faraway from the Boston of his youthful and glorious twenties as the moon is from the sun. But, this is the bed Rajon Rondo made for himself, an example of you reap what you sow. Difficult, moody and intensely compulsive, Rondo burns as many bridges as he builds which is his great paradox. Once upon a time, though, it was not like this and once upon a time it was exactly like this. But what used to be so extraordinary is now gone, that scent of luxury that surrounded Rondo as he orchestrated the offense led by dynamically talented Hall of Famers. This is different. It is the Bulls and Dwayne Wade. It is Jimmy Butler, the young star, still learning leadership.
In Los Angeles for the weekend to play the Clippers and Lakers, the Bulls should have beaten the Clippers, they led most of the way, and they did beat the Lakers, closing the door in the 4th against a dreadfully young and wreck of a defensive team. Rondo was Rondo.
Against the Clippers he had 9 points, 8 assists and two steals and he shot 57.1% and made a third of his threes.
Against the Lakers, he looked like it was the second game of a back-to-back. He missed 7 out of 9 shots but had 12 assists, a layup late to seal the win and he tossed in 9 rebounds. The Bulls are 9-5 and look to be back in the playoff scrum after a disastrous turn last year out the postseason. Rondo seems to be behaving himself.
On the year he is averaging 7.7 points, nearly 6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. Not the Rondo of a long time ago but good enough to lead this Bulls team.
There are some who call this latest bend in the Rondo road a resurrection but to say that is to assume Rondo is a figure familiar and predictable, a human who fell from grace who is trying to pull himself up. Rondo didn’t fall from grace. Rondo put himself in this very tight box where he finds himself east of Boston and west of Sacramento. He’s Rondo so he expects to climb out. Somehow.
He wasn’t ever supposed to leave the northeast but the city of Boston tolerated him and adored him and rooted for him and celebrated him and then watched him leave. Rajon Rondo played for a team with a rich history for nine years. And then he played for a team with a rich owner for four months. He was as good as Rondo could be considering his personality when he played for a team like the Kings who are rich in drama and chaos with a lot of moving parts that hate each other.
Playing for his fourth team in twenty one months was not the fantasy, not for a NBA champion point guard who was supposed to have a career in Boston long enough to climb up the history books and anticipate the night his jersey was raised in the rafters. Now he is nomadic, going here, playing there.
Remember who he is: a talented point guard with a brilliant aptitude for the game, extraordinarily gifted with court vision, seeing a play before it happens. He deconstructs the complicated and makes it look ordinary, he of the 20 assists against Charlotte (twice) and the 17 assists against Memphis and the 17 assists against the Lakers, last season highs. He’s been an All-Star four times. Of all active players, he has the 6th most total assists. Of all active players, he has the 3rd highest assists per game (8.7). Of all active players, he has the second most steals per game. Of all active players, he has the fourth highest steal percentage.
Rondo is a highly gifted and intelligent player.
But he couldn’t make it work in Boston, and Dallas was a disaster from the get go. Sacramento was redemption, he was Rondo-like. But with all of his return to form last season, 11.7 points, and 36.5% from three, a career high, and 45.4% field goals, a mark unseen since 2012-13, Rondo is becoming an anomaly. Point guards just don’t play like Rondo anymore. They are explosive three point shooters and ball movers. They are not conductors.
Chicago, then, is less of a new beginning then a place for Rondo to take what he knows and mold it around a team desperate for cohesion. He is a lifeline for the pieces who don’t exactly fit in the era they have been placed. The Bulls have no choice but to be a defensive team. One more season in which Fred Hoiberg doesn’t have the personnel to run what he wants. Rondo is having a good year so far.
He is 9th in assists. His shooting is woeful, of course. 31.6% on catch-and-shoot jumpers. 16.1% on pullups. He is worse at wide open shots then he is at contested shots; he’s not particularly good at either. But he is in Chicago to be Rondo, not to change. His role is to keep the offense running smoothly.
Last season, for the most part, Rondo guided the Kings in obscurity, away from the lights and the expectations and the interest. Who cares about Sacramento? But the Bulls are a marquee franchise regardless of if they can grab a top four seed. It’s been 18 years since a Bulls title so everyone has pretty much settled in to the reality. But those are optics that neither bother Rondo nor make a difference. He’s self involved to the point of tunnel vision. He can’t see outside of himself and frankly sometimes he is too smart for what he is being asked to do: follow the coach’s orders.
Does it seem like Rondo is 30? It feels like he has been in the NBA a long time because it’s been eight years since he won a NBA title. The league has changed since then. There are few Rondo’s out there, point guards who are just point guards, who can’t and don’t want to shoot and so in his eleventh season Rondo is more rare today than he was when he first started. The question always comes back to the root though: how much can Rondo affect the Bulls without things blowing up, and how much can Rondo change of himself to make this marriage, his fourth, a successful one that doesn’t end in an ugly divorce?
So far. So good.
photo via llananba