Rondo a change of pace, not a savior for Bulls

Love it or hate it, the Chicago Bulls certainly appear to have stabilized the point guard position after a tumultuous couple of weeks.

Following their trade of former franchise cornerstone Derrick Rose, the Bulls acquired erstwhile Boston Celtic/Dallas Maverick/Sacramento King guard Rajon Rondo to presumably take over as the team’s floor general for the next two years. And in this new salary cap era, a two-year deal for $28 million for Rondo looks like a something of a bargain.

First and foremost, this signing should allay Bulls’ fans concerns regarding who would/should be the starting point guard when next season kicks off. Following the Rose trade, it looked like sophomore guard Jerian Grant and aging veteran Jose Calderon—both of whom were acquired from the Knicks in the deal that shipped Rose away—would battle it out for the starting spot in the backcourt alongside off-guard Jimmy Butler, especially when it was announced that E’Twaun Moore was signing a four-year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The addition of Rondo, assuming he stays healthy and is basically the player we’ve come to expect, would make him a clear-cut start in this situation, allowing Grant to continue coming off the bench and honing his skills in a developmental capacity.

Hopefully, it will also mean that Calderon, who will turn 35 in September, will primarily be a veteran presence on the bench rather than a significant contributor on the floor. One can only hope…if Calderon has to play meaningful minutes, the Bulls will have problems.

As far as whether or not the Rondo-Butler backcourt pairing will mesh better than the Rose-Butler tandem, which never really took off, there looks to be some significant intrigue brewing. In the aftermath of the Rondo signing,’s Zack Harper wrote a piece suggesting that Butler might be unhappy with the move as it appears the Bulls are looking to maintain salary cap flexibility going forward rather than making moves to actively compete for a title this season.

Ultimately, there are two sides to this move from an organizational standpoint. On one hand, it should be noted that not mortgaging their future on free agents like Harrison Barnes that might take up $20-25M annually for five years is a smart play.

The Bulls are better served trying to save their money for when they’re actually competitive, though their star player, and their fans, might not be that happy with that approach this season.

That said, along with having bad injury luck with Rose and Noah, the Bulls put themselves behind the 8-ball by not doing a better job reloading their team, such as last year when they didn’t/couldn’t trade Pau Gasol, and missing on several draft picks along the way—notably Marquis Teague and Tony Snell—that forced the team to sign mediocre free agents like Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson, and Mike Dunleavy.

The bottom line is that the Bulls can’t really be expected to do much more than they are doing. They could’ve signed a top point guard like Mike Conley to an outrageous contract, but that, combined with Butler’s contract, would’ve killed any flexibility the Bulls had as far as adding future free agent pieces.

They could still go after aging stars like Dwayne Wade, who likely still has a couple productive years left. But are the Bulls willing to take a risk paying $20M a year to a player who, at this point, needs to have his minutes managed for him to realistically help the Bulls in the postseason and even so might suddenly decline as he did in back-to-back NBA Finals runs in 2013 and 2014?

Or the Bulls can just signi a few bargain-priced free agents that will likely be a stop-gap for whatever’s next. It’s a choice of evils, and the Bulls are going with the least bad option in bringing in players like Rondo on shorter deals.

From a basketball standpoint, I would argue that Rondo’s presence in the lineup has potential to be more positive than negative for the Bulls, and Butler in particular. Too often last season, the Bulls were stricken dead late in games by lack of ball movement, devolving into awful possessions of iso-ball and bad shots. Butler and Rose were almost completely responsible for this, adding fuel to the notion that the two had no on-court chemistry and were basically operating on a “your-turn, my-turn” basis offensively.

If nothing else, Rondo has made an entire career on keeping the ball moving. He has averaged more than 8.0 assists a game eight times in his career and may do a better job keeping the floor spread for Butler and shooters such as Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, who could benefit from more open looks.

He’s never been the scorer Rose is, which could hamper the Bulls as teams start to keep heavily on Butler, but the offense as a whole should hopefully be less stagnant than it was a year ago, which may give us more insight into whether or not Fred Hoiberg’s system can work here in Chicago.

While Rondo’s basketball contributions will be an interesting change-of-pace for the Bulls, it’s his personality that could be the most intriguing addition to this Bulls team. Rondo’s reputation as a locker room problem—which started taking center stage after his acrimonious tenure with Rick Carlisle and the Mavs—has been discussed from the moment his name was even connected to the Bulls.

If Rondo was a challenge for such well-established coaches as Doc Rivers, Carlisle, and George Karl, what might he do to a mild-mannered Fred Hoiberg who spend most of last year seemingly being bullied by Butler? Instead of helping the Bulls stay afloat during their transition period, might his inclusion into an already volatile situation make things worse and set the Bulls back even further?

Rondo is not going to save the Bulls or return them to glory; at 30 years old, he’s a savvy veteran that can give the Bulls a few decent years while they look for another franchise guard. He’s better or worse than Rose at this point in their careers, either. Both are bad defenders and bad shooters. Rondo’s worse at free throws but has shot better on threes than Rose, at least in the past few seasons, and is a better rebounder.

Basically, if Rose wasn’t an answer for the Bulls’ championship hopes the past few years, Rondo isn’t going to be now. The Bulls’ mission to get “younger and more athletic” certainly isn’t being served by signing him. If nothing else, they’ll at least be entertaining.

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