By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) Two days after stars Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade ripped their teammates for not caring enough about winning and a day after Rajon Rondo called those two out for their questionable leadership, the Bulls convened Friday morning in an attempt to put the latest saga in a spiraling season behind them.
The team gathered for an usually long meeting at the Advocate Center, with players, coaches and general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson in the room. A primary goal of the meeting was to allow the much-maligned youngsters to speak their mind and open up, and both Rondo and coach Fred Hoiberg called it a “productive” gathering.
Shortly after it ended, Forman appeared before the media for about 90 seconds but puzzlingly didn’t take questions amid a story that has garnered the Bulls negative national attention.
“We were extremely disappointed that several players chose to speak out after our last game,” Forman said. “Every team has issues, and it’s our strong belief when you have issues or critical comments that you keep you issues or critical comments in house.
“It’s not how we want to operate. It’s totally unacceptable, and we may it very clear to the players involved that were involved that it’s unacceptable. It’s a distraction that’s not needed and a detriment to team growth.”
Rondo confirmed he was fined for his public comments. It was understood that Butler and Wade were fined as well, though the Bulls didn’t confirm that. No one will be suspended.
The Bulls gathered Butler, Wade and Rondo for a meeting Thursday amid the hoopla, coach Fred Hoiberg said, before Friday’s team-wide meeting.
After blowing a 10-point lead with less than three minutes left against the Hawks on Wednesday, both Butler and Wade called out their young teammates and expressed displeasure over the team’s late-game shot selection.
“Mother ******* just got to care if we win or lose,” Butler said.
Added Wade: “I don’t know if I see enough guys who really, really want it.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Rondo responded on his Instagram account by backing the younger Bulls with a lengthy post that included a photo of him with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce during their days with the Celtics. Among his comments, Rondo wrote, “My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to play” and concluded by saying: “The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”
Neither Butler nor Wade expressed regret for their words Wednesday. Wade indicated he wasn’t bothered by Rondo’s rebuttal Thursday.
“Everyone gets an opportunity to express themselves,” Wade said. “Just like I chose to express myself, that’s the way he chose to express himself. That’s the world we live in. I have no reaction to it. Just like my comments were said, we deal with them as a team and then after that, we move on to try to play a basketball game.
“I have no ill intentions or hard feelings for anyone. I want everyone to succeed in this locker room, this year and beyond, in this game.”
Likewise, Rondo didn’t back down.
“I said what I said,” he said. “People can take it how they want to. I made a statement. I wasn’t angry, it wasn’t a rant. Just my thoughts.’’
Rondo also maintained he “absolutely” can have a positive working relationship with Butler and Wade moving forward. Wade added he didn’t take Rondo’s words personally, even as Rondo referenced Garnett and Pierce attacking every day to the fullest during their Celtics days, whether it was a practice or game.
“I could take that as a personal attack,” Wade said. “But what’s that going to do for me? Come in and fight Rajon because he said his vets practiced every day? I’m 35. I’m not practicing every day. That’s very clear. Everyone has their own things.
“My vets did different things too. They were very successful with what they did in Boston. I took it as a human being expressing himself and feeling he wanted to say something regarding the young guys on the team and he felt it was portrayed different. And that’s his leadership. That’s his way of leading. Just like my way of leading is my way of leading when I come out here and I smile and say all these positive things. And when I come in and say I’m pissed off, that’s my way of leading at that time.”
As for the Bulls, they claimed they can turn this into a positive, although that remains to be seen how. Most pressing may be this: Can the young players who aren’t so vocal overcome getting publicly criticized?
“The big thing was what we did after those comments were made by getting together as a group and sitting in there and talking about it,” Hoiberg said. “Again, I do think it was productive.”
Rondo emphasized the younger Bulls — whom he’s taken under his wing since signing with Chicago in July — need more support from everyone, the front office included.
“Absolutely,” Rondo said. “I wouldn’t be the player I am today if I didn’t have the support I had, the mentors I played with.
Rondo also indicated in his Instagram post that Butler and Wade were influencing the coaching staff and changing game plans. Asked if that was the case, Hoiberg responded with a flat “no.”
The Bulls (23-24) host the Heat (16-30) on Friday night at the United Center.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.