The Bulls waive Rajon Rondo, ending a very weird partnership after one year

Rajon Rondo’s back on the market. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

So, after all that, the Chicago Bulls are down to just one “Alpha.”

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The Bulls announced Friday afternoon that they’ve waived point guard Rajon Rondo, just shy of one year after Chicago signed him to a two-year deal to serve as the Bulls’ new lead ball-handler. The team had reportedly tried to find a taker for the final year and $13.3 million Rondo was due for the 2017-18 season, but couldn’t find a trade partner for the 31-year-old former All-Star. Instead, the Bulls chose to waive him hours before the start of the NBA’s 2017 free agent season at 12 a.m. ET Saturday, paying him $3 million rather than his full freight to open up a little under $21 million in cap space heading into free agency.

Not that the Bulls are expected to make a big splash once things get underway. At last Thursday’s 2017 NBA draft, Chicago shipped All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, far and away the team’s best player, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for shooting guard Zach LaVine, 2016 first-round pick point guard Kris Dunn and 2017 first-round choice Lauri Markkanen, a 7-foot shooter out of Arizona — all age 23 and under, joining a collection of recent draft picks and additions (Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Bobby Portis, Jerian Grant, Cristiano Felicio, Cameron Payne) in what now seems to be a full-on youth movement that’s not exactly conducive to spending big money in free agency.


The move seemed curious from the jump. Yes, Rondo had led the NBA in assists one season earlier on a Sacramento Kings team on which, as he colorfully said, “you couldn’t name three people,” and yes, he came at a comparatively low annual price tag for a starting point guard in the wake of the Bulls trading Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. But as a ball-dominant, non-3-point-shooting playmaker whose best defensive days are behind him and whose prickly personality had resulted in more than a few run-ins with coaches during his time in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento, Rondo seemed an odd fit alongside incumbent rising superstar Butler and the Bulls’ other big-name, big-ticket 2016 free-agent signing: hometown hero Dwyane Wade, himself a ball-dominant, non-3-point-shooting playmaker whose best defensive days are behind him.

The players insisted before the start of the season that they’d make it work, that having “Three Alphas” in the locker room and on the court was better than having none. The results didn’t exactly bear that out, as the Bulls sputtered and stumbled for most of the season before finishing 41-41, briefly putting the fear of God into the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, and losing four straight games to get eliminated after Rondo suffered a broken thumb that knocked him out for the remainder of the season.

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It was a weird year. Rondo began the season as Chicago’s starting point guard, then earned a one-game suspension in December for “conduct detrimental to the team” after a heated exchange with assistant coach Jim Boylen. Later that month, he got benched for five straight games in favor of former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, and even racked up a DNP-CD on his own celebratory bobblehead night. He returned to the lineup after the “bulls***” benching and, before long, into controversy, as he, Butler and Wade sparred publicly and via social media over the leadership reins of a team that was underperforming its own lofty expectations and running out of time to solve its issues.

The Bulls eventually got it together enough to hit .500 and earn the East’s eighth and final playoff spot on the final night of the season. They stunned the top-seeded Celtics to start the opening round, taking two games in Boston behind strong performances from Butler, center Robin Lopez and Rondo, as the former Celtic averaged 11.5 points, 10 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals in two stellar outings in his old stomping grounds. It all turned, though, after Rondo broke his right thumb in Game 2. Fred Hoiberg didn’t have another option at the point capable of filling Rondo’s role, and a Celtics team that figured out the tactical lever to pull to put the Bulls’ backs against the wall — playing small-ball from the start of the game to pull Chicago’s bigs away from the rim, forcing Hoiberg to try to match size with size, neutralizing Lopez and the Bulls’ rebounding advantage inside — ripped off four straight wins to eliminate the Bulls.

Rondo, who averaged 7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.7 assists in 26.7 minutes per game in 69 appearances in his lone season in Chicago, insisted after the season that the Bulls would’ve swept the C’s had he not gotten injured. The Bulls insisted they wanted to bring Rondo back. Neither came to pass, and now the veteran point guard will have to wait to see what kind of interest he can generate on the free-agent market.

Chicago also waived point guard Isaiah Canaan, who made 39 appearances off the Bulls bench last year, averaging 4.6 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 15.2 minutes per game, and who started in Round 1 after Rondo went down.


(Like I said: weird year.)

Despite having moved decisively in the direction of a youth-led rebuild over the past eight days, the Bulls appear to be sticking with holding on to their lone remaining “Alpha,” who exercised the $23.8 million player option he held for the season to come:


How exactly paying Wade $24 million to lead a team in transition makes sense doesn’t exactly compute. But then, that’s sort of par for the course, as any major Rondo will tell you:


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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!