By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) The Bulls have parted ways with point guard Rajon Rondo.
Ahead of the Friday night deadline, Chicago chose to waive the 31-year-old Rondo and pay him his guaranteed $3 million instead of picking up his $13.4 million team option in full for 2017-’18. The decision makes Rondo an unrestricted free agent and opens up an extra $10 million or so in salary cap space for the rebuilding Bulls. Free agency begins at 11:01 p.m. CT on Friday.
The Bulls also waived little-used reserve guard Isaiah Canaan, after one season in Chicago. They will pay his $200,000 guarantee. His contract would’ve become fully guaranteed for $1.5 million next season if he’d remained on the roster.
The exit of Rondo comes after a trying, wild initial season for him in Chicago. He entered as one member of the “Three Alphas,” the moniker he coined for Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler and himself. Rondo was the starting point guard until late December, when he was dropped out of the rotation entirely because the coaching staff thought he was playing “slow” basketball. Rondo then settled into a second-unit role before reclaiming his starting point guard job in mid-March and leading the Bulls’ late-season charge into the playoffs, where he was the team’s hero for the opening two wins until a thumb fracture forced him to miss the rest of the series as the Bulls crumbled.
Throughout it all, Rondo had the respect of the team’s younger players. He traveled out to Hoffman Estates to support young players on quick assignments in the D-League, and it was Rondo who in late January fired off an incendiary Instagram post criticizing Wade and Butler one day after those two had questioned the heart and effort of the young Bulls players.
It’s Rondo’s leadership and mentoring role that have kept the Bulls still interested in bringing him back. They’ve discussed re-signing him at a lesser salary figure in free agency, the Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported, but Rondo still has a desire to play regularly and believes he’s a starting-caliber player. So that appears to be a long shot.
On top of benefiting from losing games to attain a high draft pick in 2018 as they’ve embarked on a new direction following last week’s trade of Butler to the Timberwolves, the Bulls also have a need to open up playing time for young point guards Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne — so it’s unclear how Rondo would fit in a basketball sense.
Rondo averaged 7.8 points and 6.7 assists on 40.8 percent shooting in 69 games last season.
With Rondo’s $3 million figure on the books instead of $13.4 million, the Bulls will enter free agency with around $60 million in 2017-’18 salary commitments, according to Basketball Insiders’ numbers. The salary cap is $99 million. They Bulls have publicly indicated they plan on retaining restricted free agents Nikola Mirotic and Cris Felicio. They’ll have the right to match any offer sheet those two sign with other teams.
The Bulls have hinted at a low-profile free agency as they’ve embarked on a rebuild.
“It’s been a really good environment around here, and we are going to continue down that path,” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “We have to be disciplined and patient. We are not going to right out the gate be throwing huge money at people. If there was a young player who we thought fit our future, we would certainly look at that, but that has to be the key.”
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.