By: Michael Walton II
The Chicago Bulls have entered the post-Derrick Rose era with a flurry of moves that have left many fans trying to figure out exactly what Gar Forman and John Paxson are trying to accomplish with their team. As signified by the two-year deal with Rajon Rondo, the Bulls are a franchise that refuses to let themselves drop to the bottom. This means that Chicago’s management would prefer to be in the dreaded middle instead of tanking to acquire a high-lottery pick.
With that in mind, this move does have room for some upside. Rondo comes to the Bulls on a two-year deal that is reported to be only partially guaranteed in the second year.
Partial guarantee on year 2 with Rondo, so basically a one year, make good rental
— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) July 3, 2016
Rondo’s mutual option means the Bulls and Rondo each have the option after year 1 to walk away or continue. Player and team option
— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) July 3, 2016
With the “mutual option”, Rondo and Bulls working on the language as far as dates/guarantees. I’ll clarify when given…clarity
— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) July 4, 2016
Though initial reports suggested the move was fully guaranteed, this move allows the Bulls to retain their long-term financial flexibility while adding a starting point guard, who, for all of his flaws, was atop the remaining point guard crop of free agents. He’s certainly an upgrade over any flotsam currently on the roster.
Under Fred Hoiberg the Bulls are supposed to play with pace. Hoiberg wants his squad to use up a ton of possessions in order to tire out the opposition and create easy offense. And while Rondo is not a space-the-floor shooter, his incredible playmaking ability will help him orchestrate the offense. This is a much needed skill for a Bulls team that last year appeared to be disorganized much of the time on offense.
Rondo comes from a Sacramento Kings team that just led the league in pace (102.24) and finished 11 ranks higher (Kings 14th, 103.3) than the Bulls (25th, 102.1) in Offensive Rating. This should present some relief for Hoiberg, whose main source of friction with Derrick Rose was Rose’s refusal to push the ball up the floor quickly.
Rondo is well-known as stubborn, even defiant at times, but his ability to raise the offensive game of his teammates is unquestioned. According to ESPN.com, Rondo’s teammates shot an effective field goal percentage of 54.3 percent off of his passes last year, 2.9 percent higher than the effective field goal shooting on passes from Rose. Rose also couldn’t seem to play his best ball at the same time as Butler, an issue that doesn’t figure to be a factor with the pass-first Rondo. Last season Rose and Butler combined for 632 assists on the season- Rondo had 839.
With Rondo and Butler pushing the ball the Bulls offense will surely improve, as shooters like Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott will be served on-point passes unlike any they have received so far. Having a capable floor general like Rondo should also help Bobby Portis sculpt his hyper-active presence from last year into a serious pick-and-roll/pop threat.
There are some bigger question marks with this move, however, including Rondo’s defensive willingness and shooting. Last year, Rondo’s defensive rating was 107 compared to Rose’s 110, showing that, even if he continues to lack motivation on the defensive end, he is a slight upgrade over Rose. Known for his excessive gambling, Rondo had nearly 100 more steals than Rose last season, which could lead to an uptick in fast break opportunities, an area where the Bulls struggled mightily last year, scoring the third fewest fast break points per game.
Though Rondo has never been known as a shooter, he did notch a career-high in 36.5 percent on 3-pointers last season. Importantly, Rondo has never taken more than 12.2 FGAs per game in his career, which will give all the more shots to Butler and company.
After moving on from Rose, the Bulls have finally established their go-to, franchise player, even if they now have a peculiar supporting cast. Part of the reason Rose and Butler couldn’t work together is because of their similarity in play style; that they were both non-shooting, score-first attackers. Despite Rondo’s lack of shooting threat, his “true point-guard” qualities do fit better with Butler, in theory.
The Bulls waited for the free-agency market to thin out, and negotiated a reasonable contract with a veteran who will help uphold their place as a top rebounding team, set the tempo for the offense Hoiberg envisioned, and serve Butler some of the easiest buckets of his career.
Bulls fans may not be happy with a move that seems to be the basketball equivalent of treading water, but at the end of the day, this move needs to be evaluated as what it is cut and dry: a short-term, cost-efficient upgrade at point guard.
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