Chicago Bulls fans have been yo-yo’ed around for well over a year now. Management were hoping to see some positive changes when they fired Tom Thibodeau and brought in Fred Hoiberg to coach the 2015-16 season; instead, they missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
When they traded an injury prone Derrick Rose this past summer and brought in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, many thought better things were in store. Instead, a promising start gave way to a complete collapse and they became a sub-.500 team.
The media rumors began almost instantly: Heads were going to roll! Hoiberg’s out! Gar Forman’s Next! The team’s having a fire-sale!
Except, none of that happened. Instead, Hoiberg benched Rajon Rondo and suddenly the Bulls started winning again. Butler put up a 50 point game. Suddenly the narrative changed: The Bulls can win if they trade Rajon Rondo.
Rondo’s now racked up three DNPs in as many games and the team is winning. Unfortunately, this is not the first sign that things weren’t working out well for Rondo. Despite an impressive start, the point guard’s production dipped and then he was suspended a game for throwing a towel at assistant coach Jim Boylen.
So now the Bulls find themselves in an unusual position: Rondo’s the teams third highest-paid player, he’s supposed to be their starting point guard, and the team isn’t using him at all. At this point, the team has three choices for dealing with this situation:
Option #1.) Play Rajon Rondo
This is a weird discussion to have because I actually like Rajon Rondo. I really wanted this to work – but, if the stats are any indication, keeping him on the team is starting to seem unwise. Rondo doesn’t play the kind of offense Hoiberg likes, and it’s starting to look like he’s not a strong enough player anymore to justify his short-comings.
Option #2.) Trade Rajon Rondo
Rondo’s already told press he “absolutely” plans to request a trade if Chicago doesn’t play him and management might give in to his request – but that doesn’t guarantee a trade.
Even if the Bulls do manage to find a partner interesting in Rondo, they’d have almost no leverage in the situation.
Rondo’s contract has value to any team that might want to clear cap-space in the offseason. Rondo’s only guaranteed for this season (plus and additional three-million buyout next year). But the Bulls are exactly type of team who will look to clear cap-space this offseason.
Brandon Knight of the Phoenix Suns has been suggested as an option, but he has several years on his contract and it’s not clear whether he’s really the type of player the team wants to spend that money on right now.
The Bulls could theoretically add other players to the package (Nikola Mirotic has been linked to a lot of trade rumors this season), but Taj Gibson is the only substantial asset the team have to offer, and his presence would be sorely missed.
No matter what the Bulls offer, the main reason people won’t trade for Rondo is that assume Chicago will go with option three:
Option #3.) Buyout Rajon Rondo
Most teams will not give up anything for Rondo’s contract because they assume they’ll be able to pick him up on a team-friendly contract after he’s waived.
Imagine how much damage he could do as a bench player on a roster full of high-percentage shooters (ie. Golden State)? There are definitely teams that would benefit from Rondo, but they won’t trade anything to accommodate his salary – especially when they can just pick him up on-the-cheap once the Bulls cut him.
This option seems likely because it allows Chicago to maintain flexibility in the offseason and clear a space on their roster – but it leaves them with a hole in the backcourt. While Michael Carter-Williams is doing pretty well as the starting point guard at the moment, he’s already been injured once this season. If MCW goes down again and the team doesn’t have Rondo, they’ll be forced to play Jerian Grant as a starter, and I’m not sure anyone is comfortable with that.
However, if the team does decide to cut Rondo, they end up with two open spots on their roster. So how could the Bulls best fill those holes moving forward?
Without Rondo, the teams two biggest needs will be a point guard and a wing player that can shoot. Chicago could also benefit from some additional athleticism, but that might be too much to ask at this point.
Assuming no major players suddenly become available, Chicago’s options are limited. Here are a couple prospects that may be worth scouting:
Jarrett Jack (PG)
Jarrett Jack fell out of the league last season due to knee problems. According to CBS Sports, he’s currently holding “an open audition for guard-needy teams”. However, if the Bulls are looking to go after an older backup guard, Toney Douglas is also available.
Jamaal Franklin (SG)
Franklin has put up some insane stat-lines in the CBA. While those don’t really translate to the NBA, it does give him the illusion of being an incredible compelling player. Of course, when a player’s bounced around as much as Franklin, you start to assume there’s a reason for it. But still – it worked for Hassan Whiteside.
Lance Stephenson (SG/SF)
Like Jack, Stephenson was cut in 2016 after an injury, but it now looks like he’s scheduled to make a return this season. Lance has had his ups and downs, but I wouldn’t rule him out just yet. Depending on how his recovery went, he could be a nice short-term solution to the Bulls athleticism issues.
Unfortunately, none of these choices will solve all the Bulls problems – especially not the lack of perimeter shooting – but it’s a start. And who knows where we’ll be next week? If the current rumors are true, Jimmy Butler is back on the trading block, so I guess anything is possible…