One of the Boston Celtics' biggest conference rivals, the Chicago Bulls, have signed former Celtic Rajon Rondo to a two-year $28 million deal. The deal includes a 'mutual option' on the second year, meaning that both the Bulls and Rondo will have to want to stay together after this season.
The deal is a little odd for a few reasons. Rondo is probably exceptionally happy that he is able to get away from the dysfunction of Sacramento. Yet the specifics of the deal mean Chicago can only really be considered a short-term solution as the 'mutual option' indicates some level of mutual distrust.
For Chicago, who have insisted they are 'retooling' rather than rebuilding, the deal seems even stranger. The Bulls already picked up young guard Jerian Grant and veteran Jose Calderon via their trade with the Knicks. Besides that, the question remains—why trade away Derrick Rose, on the grounds that he has too many question marks over his future, only to bring in Rondo on a short-term deal that raises even more question marks?
Rondo hasn’t been a Celtic since 2014, when he was traded away to the Dallas Mavericks in a deal that netted Boston Jae Crowder as well as additional picks and players. But for a long time Rondo was central to the Celtics.
The assist-crazed point guard broke out just as the Celtics formed their ‘Big Three’ and found himself starting alongside Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. In fact, his stellar play, particularly during the playoffs, prompted many to upgrade Boston’s ‘Big Three’ to the ‘Big Four’, with Rondo as Boston’s fourth outright star player.
After several years with Boston playing as perennial contenders, things started to take a turn for the worse. An ACL injury would see Rondo miss a year’s worth of action. By the time he was back, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce had been traded to the Brooklyn Nets, leaving the Celtics almost entirely reliant on the returning Rondo.
The steely-gazed guard became Boston’s lone star. With the franchise now heavily invested in the future after acquiring a bucketload of draft picks, Rondo struggled to carry the team through some tough times and was eventually traded to Dallas on December 18, 2014.
Rondo’s time at Dallas was disastrous. He couldn’t fit into Rick Carlisle’s system at all, and despite hopes that ‘playoff Rondo’ might emerge and save the Mavs, Rondo’s playoff performance was even worse than his regular season play that year.
With nowhere to go, Rondo ended up in the basketball purgatory that is Sacramento. Alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Rondo managed to put up good numbers on a bad team and seems to have increased his value, if only slightly, from where it was when he left Dallas.
During the offseason, Chicago have let go of stalwart stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, seemingly in the hopes of building around Jimmy Butler. Bringing in Rondo could provide a solid backcourt partner to Butler, with the precision passes of Rondo feeding Butler the ball so as Jimmy can get buckets.
Plus, having traded away backup PG Kirk Hinrich in February, the Bulls are obviously looking to stack themselves up at that position, now that Rose is also gone. Along with signing Rondo the Bulls picked up point guards Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon via their trade with the Knicks, leaving them with several options at the point.
Still it’s an interesting choice for Chicago to make. The Bulls are definitely taking a risk on the hot-headed point guard who, when facing off with the Celtics in Mexico City this past season, was ejected from the game for making homophobic comments to referee Bill Kennedy.
What's more, most would say that Rondo's best basketball years are behind him, and he'll do little more than stuff his own stat sheet, take precious playing time away from developing players and not help Chicago move any closer to contention.
The next time Rondo comes to Boston, he’s unlikely to get a standing ovation. Whatever history he has with the Celtics is overridden by the historical rivalry with the Bulls. Plus Rondo’s recent behaviour probably doesn’t help either.
Regardless, Rondo managed to swing a deal almost as good as Timofey Mozgov and will have a chance to get away from the ongoing train wreck that is the Sacramento Kings organization.
Lots of deals are being made in the East leaving the conference drastically changed. It will be interesting to see how much Rondo playing for Chicago influences the overall balance of power in a much-changed Eastern Conference and how it will affect the Celtics.
For now this looks like one of the more baffling deals of the free agency period. If it works out, we're sure to see Rondo playing in Chicago for a couple of years to come and if not, Rondo will be looking for a new home at the end of next season all over again.