By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) I’ve gone back and forth regarding what makes sense about this postseason Chicago Bulls thing. They shouldn’t have made the playoffs. Then they inexplicably did and took a 2-0 lead over the Boston Celtics,which made perfect asinine sense. Now the Bulls enter Game 5 on Wednesday tied in the series 2-2 and seemingly without any momentum or control over their spastic play, and those late-regular season feelings of Bulls ennui began creeping back into me.
Then came word Tuesday evening that point guard Rajon Rondo, who missed the two Boston victories with a broken thumb and was presumed out for the duration of the series, was intent on making a comeback. That comeback won’t be in Game 5, as Rondo confirmed Wednesday morning that he’s out, but there’s still some hope that he could return for Game 6 on Friday.
A Rondo return would be a jolt to Bulls fans, as he has of late become the straw that stirs whatever weird cocktail his team is. It should at the very least wipe out some of that pesky resignation I’d been feeling and provide perfect narrative fodder for another award-winning column. Look at how tough Rondo is. Might this prolong the Bulls season into another round? I should be slowly and gradually weaving my fingers together in front of my nose in that very writerly way we physically express the spinning of wheels inside my skull.
But, nah. This is just sad.
If Rondo plays in Game 6 — or if he had returned for Game 5 — sure, it’s cool in the immediate, and it certainly spikes interest in a series that many saw as shifting from upset to brief anomaly. Maybe Rondo’s stabilizing presence — yes, that’s a line I just typed in late April 2017 — facilitates two more wins over the Celtics.
And then what? A reinvigorated march to a championship? Obviously not.
A validation of the Bulls’ front office? To themselves, likely very much so. That’s not really a surprise. Just making the postseason as the used tissue fused to the bottom of the trash can in the Eastern Conference is enough for the summer press conference to be full of Gar Forman and John Paxson stroking themselves about this turd thrown in a centrifuge splattering exactly the way they wanted. No heads were rolling before next season, and hanging tough with one of the weakest one-seeds in NBA history is another cracked feather in the GarPax cap.
Besides that, the duration of the Bulls’ season hangs on the ability of Rajon effing Rondo to play well. Stop and consider your position in the cosmos right now as someone with any vested interest in the Bulls. It’s the same Rondo who was benched this season — for the federally indicted law firm of Michael Carter-Williams — and smirked through it as his head coach struggled for respect in a locker room that the front office set him up to fail with. It’s the same Rondo whom the young players on the Bulls sided with in the mini-feud with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler this season. It’s the same 31-year-old Rondo who was part of the Bulls getting younger last offseason.
And now the Bulls need him — really, truly, desperately need him. Because without Rondo, they’ve been exposed — as though there were more ways to do so with this team this season — as having no other point guard. This is a professional basketball team we’re talking about here, and down went a player who was assumed to be bought out two months ago, and it crippled them against a team they had dominated otherwise. This is despite the Bulls having one of the game’s best players in Jimmy Butler as well as a Hall of Famer out there.
The Plan B to Rondo for Game 5 is Isaiah “He’s Still On the Team?” Canaan.
Not to mention that even if Rondo could come back at any point in the series, his bad thumb is on his shooting hand.
“This is honestly the first time he’s touched a basketball with that right hand,” coach Fred Hoiberg said Tuesday. “We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. He’s going to continue to condition and do everything that he can. He was in the weight room (Monday) getting a good session in there. It was his first time back in the weight room. Really, he’s just getting this process started.”
Rondo toughing it out with only one functional hand arguably could be worse than his absence. But still better than Carter-Williams. Better than Denzel Valentine, though? The Bulls’ latest first-round pick, Valentine can’t get off Hoiberg’s bench somehow, which indicts Hoiberg’s bosses for sure. That’s coupled with getting nothing from the deservedly inactive Cameron Payne — who has also spent time in the D-League since being acquired with two throwaway players for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott (a player the Bulls traded up to pick in the first round) and a second-round pick. Hooray for the future.
This is what GarPax hath wrought. The Rondo situation is more big picture for me than immediate rush. And the big picture of the Bulls is just sad.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.