By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With an offseason marked by several big impending decisions upon them, the Bulls made clear Wednesday where they stand on one of them.
They intend to bring 31-year-old point guard Rajon Rondo back.
“There’s a good chance or a really good chance that we bring Rajon back,” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said at a season-ending press conference.
Paxson’s reasoning was formulated largely because of what he observed and the feedback he received all season from Bulls players. On a team that showed many inconsistencies in looking to develop young talent, Rondo was a highly respected voice in the locker room among the less experienced Bulls.
“As we get younger, it’s still really important to have quality veterans around your young players,” Paxson said. “To a man, our young people loved Rajon. He was great in the locker room. He was great off the court with these guys. He took them under his wing in a lot of ways, and he was responsible for a lot of the good things that came from them. We have a lot of respect for Rajon, especially how he believes in the game.”
Rondo has a $13.4 million salary awaiting for 2017-’18 that the Bulls could get out of with a $3 million buyout as a June 30 deadline looms. The thought of him returning seemed far-fetched back in January, when he lost his starting job, was benched entirely for five games and then later torched star teammates Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade in an Instagram post after their criticized the work ethic of some younger Bulls. Butler, Wade and Rondo all received fines from the organization.
But circumstances changed. Rondo reclaimed his starting job in mid-March and helped lead a late-season surge that got Chicago into the playoffs, where it lost to Boston in six games in the first round as Rondo missed the final four games with a fractured thumb.
Rondo averaged 7.8 points and 6.7 assists on 40.8 percent shooting, and coach Fred Hoiberg credited him with spearheading the “fun” brand of basketball the Bulls played late in the season that fit Hoiberg’s vision.
All along, the young Bulls swore by Rondo, who served as a mentor and would often be seen playing pickup games with them after practice. Now, the Bulls intend to pick up the contract in full, barring unforseen circumstances.
Rondo had an excused absence from Bulls exit meetings last Saturday as he attended a family event, but soon, the sides will sit down. And it appears they’re on the same page.
“When we had that incident where Dwyane and Jimmy spoke up in January, when he stood up for our young guys, that empowered them a little bit,” Paxson said. “It might be small but there was some growth with our young guys. Because they felt they had a voice as a young player, and for us that was important.”
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.